7 p.m. A briefing was held in Estancia at the East Torrance Soil & Water Conservation District building adjacent to the evacuation shelter set up there for people and livestock, which is still not full to capacity as people and animals of all sorts continued to come in starting in the early hours of the morning.
Smoke today in the area east of the fire was much reduced from yesterday when this reporter drove through on the way to Estancia down N.M. 41.
Rich Nieto, in charge of the multi-agency firefighting team battling the blaze with some 700 people, said the fire increased in size by only about 1,000 acres today, compared with about 4,000 acres in growth Wednesday. The current acreage of the fire is 17,000 acres, Nieto said.
The Independent’s detailed coverage of information relayed by the same team earlier in the afternoon at Los Vecinos Community Center in Tijeras is here.
Nieto gave a detailed description of what the fire has done since it started. Video of that is here, with apologies for shaky video and no editing by this print journalist:
Residents filling the hall wanted to know if their homes had burned down. Officials said they are matching GPS coordinates with county maps to determine whose homes were destroyed. At that briefing, Nieto said 24 primary structures, meaning homes, and 20 outbuildings had burned.
Nieto said there is some concern the fire could get to the Sherwood Forest neighborhood, with “700 to 1,000 homes there.”
He urged people to be prepared to evacuate if they are near the fire. “You’re not going to have much time,” he cautioned.
Sen. Ted Barela, who lives in Estancia and has been on the response team since the fire broke out, said officials want to make sure the information they give out is accurate. He said he knows people want to get back in. “We know it’s your alls homes. You’re the ones displaced,” he said. “People are wanting to get back, but it’s way too early for that.”
A person in the audience asked about when air support is working on the fire, and Nieto explained that air operations are not flown at night, or if the wind is 30 miles per hour, or if there is too much smoke to see.
A man wanted to know if would have been “more prudent to bomb the hell out of the fire” when it was 70 acres, but Nieto said he would not take questions about response to the fire before he took over in command 48 hours before.
Nieto added that the air tankers are “national assets” and said in the past 2 to 3 days fires broke out in Utah and California, with the same hot and dry conditions as New Mexico is currently experiencing. Temperatures reached the 90s today. Nighttime temperatures have been in the 40s and 50s this week.
Asked if Tajique is in danger, Nieto said the team assesses the area to the east of the fire daily.
Torrance County Emergency Manager Javier Sanchez said the county is working to “disseminate all the information that we can” to residents. He described the boundaries of the evacuation zone in Torrance County: bounded on the north by the county line; on the south by Highway 55;on the east by Peacock Road; and on the west by Barelas Road, which he said is a little east of Tajique.
He said the shelter at the fairgrounds was “nowhere near capacity” in terms of how many people who could be housed there, and still has room for animals.
Sanchez gave out three phone numbers residents can call for information. The Emergency Operations Center, or EOC, can be reached at 505-544-4727. With questions about what to do with livestock or pets, or to have crews visit animals left behind with food and water, call 505-544-4908. To reach Sanchez, call 505-705-0836.
He said residents displaced by the fire can take showers at the Torreon Fire Station from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and said an information center has been set up at the Tajique Community Center from 7:30 a.m. until 8 or 8:30 p.m.
“We look forward to the end of it,” he said.
At the shelter next door, the CERT volunteers were looking haggard. Vicki Voyles of CERT said donations poured in today, showing this reporter a kitchen stuffed full of food, and a huge pile of pet food of all types and bottled water. Donations of hay have been received also.
The CERT volunteers number about a dozen, and some of them have been there since the fire started. Voyles said their biggest need right now is an ATV to move feed back and forth, and young, able-bodied people to muck out stalls and help care for the animals being housed there. Contact Voyles at 505-205-6315.
Fellow CERT volunteer and Voyles’ daughter Rosanna Aragon said support from the community has been amazing.
Because animals are sheltered in pens, residents can leave their animals as CERT has people there around the clock to care for them. Voyles said volunteers from 4-H would be coming to help. Most people staying at the shelter are sleeping in RVs and trailers, she said, with some pitching tents.
Cots inside the shelter are virtually unused, and the shelter could accommodate many more people if need be.