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Governor, emergency officials meet with concerned residents, evacuees

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By Tris DeRoma

The good news is firefighters battling the Thompson Ridge wildfire said they expect good firefighting weather for the next 10 days. That is, no wind, and some moisture in the forecast. The bad news, the fire is not contained, and it keeps heading slowly east toward Los Alamos.

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As of Sunday morning  it is at about 1,200 acres and spreading. Officials said that “as the crow flies” the fire is about 20 to 25 miles away from Los Alamos. They also added they didn’t see Los Alamos as being in any imminent danger.

This information was recently conveyed to a a very anxious group of residents who live around the Valles Caldera.  They met with  fire, emergency and government officials at the La Cueva Volunteer Fire Department headquarters Saturday.

Officials there told the group of their plans, and what they could do to help. The audience seemed anxious, but also appreciative of what the authorities were doing for them. There were even a few jokes cracked by authorities and audience members alike.

Governor Susana Martinez also added a reassuring calm to the meeting, as she told the audience to prepare for evacuation, if and when it comes.

“I told them to be prepared, and be vigilant, just in case they have to be evacuated,” Martinez said. I told them to make sure they had family photos, prescriptions, any type of personal or insurance documents ready to go, so they wouldn’t have to look for those things at the last minute. I also told them that we will be dedicating all the resources we can to fight this fire.”

 

There is another town meeting scheduled for 3 p.m. today Sierra De Los Pinos/La Cueva Volunteer Fire Department #2, State Highway 4 and Forest Road 10 and the governor is expected to attend.

 

According to Marie Rodriguez, the director of natural resources for the Valles Caldera Trust, evacuations have already occurred along the western edge of the caldera, where the fire originated via a fallen power line. That includes the Elk Valley subdvision and Thompson Ridge.

Rodriguez said Los Alamos is not in any danger right now, and they’ve managed to preserve and protect all of the houses in the immediate vicinity of the fire.

“The firefighters have gone in and made sure those structures are protected,  but we can’t, of course, guarantee anything,” she said.

When asked if officials had a plan for fighting the fire, Fire Management Officer Bea Day  told the audience that they are at the very beginning stages, and should know more by late Sunday. They have established an anchor on the western side, and are currently assessing what to do next.

“We can take that anchor point and figure out what we’re going to do with this fire,” she said. “There’s a lot of things we’re going to be thinking about, such as risk. Risk to us, and risk to you guys and your property. Let us get our boots on the ground and figure this out, and we will communicate to you what’s going on, what exactly our plan is going to be.”

Some of the members of the audience had already been evacuated, and asked how long it was going to be until they could go home again.

Incident Commander Kyle Sahd answered, “The evacuation is going to last as long as needed.”

 

Sahd said though they have an uphill battle on their hands, he liked the odds. He said the weather forecast in the next 10 days is going to help them.

“Generally it’s going to be hot and dry, but without the wind,” he said. He added that this Sunday, there’s a 50 percent chance of moisture. He also echoed Rodriguez’ assumption that Los Alamos is not in any imminent danger, even though the fire is far from being contained yet.

 

“Contained means we have a line around it. Controlled means we have it contained within those lines,” he said.

 

State Rep Stephanie Garcia Richard was also at the meeting. Though she didn’t speak, she was there in a supportive capacity.

 

“I just wanted to offer myself as another resource for people,” she said. “I can call up folks who are in charge who can be helpful.”

 

Garcia Richard noted that the Jemez is a unique area that lacks cell phone coverage, and people tend to have horses and other livestock that require more than the usual logistics when it comes to moving them.

 

“It’s important that people have the resources they need to take care of their animals because sometimes people will stay because of them.”

For those who haven’t been evacuated yet, officials had this advice, pick up the phone when it starts to ring. Though cell phone service is virtually non-existent in the Jemez Mountains, residents do have landlines.

According to Deputy Chief Jess Lewis of the Sandoval County Fire Department, everyone in the Jemez Mountains listed in the phone book should be on the “Code Red” list. He told the audience the notifications will start with Code Red.

 

“Please don’t think it’s a telemarketer, please pick up the phone, however if you end up buying a lot of Amway stuff, I’m sorry,” Lewis joked. If for some reason that didn’t work, the next way they would try to contact people by radio and TV.

“But if the power goes out, we can’t help you; the last step will be we’re knocking on your door,” he said.

Residents went away from the meeting with positive feelings.

"I think they did a good job,” said evacuee Carolyn Corn. “I appreciate their effort to inform us, because they could have been out doing their work; I think coming here and giving us some reassurances is a very positive thing.”