The scene at Los Vecinos Community Center this afternoon was calm as those displaced by the Dog Head Fire waited to hear when they can return home.

Meanwhile, the last official number for the burned area was reported at 17,000 acres and as the fire is still at zero percent containment, according to the last report by incident commander Rich Nieto at 7 p.m.

Robert Barber is the Red Cross shelter manager at Los Vecinos, and said the facility is in good shape. “We’ve got all the supplies we need,” he said.

Since evacuations started, about 75 people have checked at the shelter, Barber said, adding that support from the county, the village, and the people running the community center has been tremendous.

Terry Crawford and her daughter Clarissa, 13, were at the shelter after evacuating from the Escabosa area. Along with her husband, who was at work today, the family tried to hitch a trailer but were unable to, and they had to leave 11 chickens and two dogs behind.

“We thought that because of where the fire was we could get back in,” Crawford explained.

Bernalillo County Animal Control has visited their home to feed and check on their animals, but law enforcement won’t let them back in. As of this writing, roadblocks are being maintained by the National Guard and State Police.

Clarissa thought they should have been allowed to return for their pets. “It’s just kind of frustrating. It would take five minutes once we got to the gate,” she said. “They’re part of our family.”


Joe A. and Florence Mora, Velma Gurule and Mary Griego at the evacuation center at Los Vecinos Community Center in Tijeras. Photo by Dustin Barton.

Joe A. and Florence Mora have been married 55 years and lived in Chilili for that time, in a 200-year old house passed down from her mother, Rosalia Mora.

The fire came within a few miles of their house in the village. They packed up important documents and photos and evacuated Wednesday. The Moras are staying with their son in Taylor Ranch, but spending time during the day at the shelter to stay on top of what’s going on.

Their niece Velma Gurule also lives in the village and evacuated with her husband Orlando and grandson Jonathan Valdez, leaving behind another grandson who would not leave the land.

Describing the scene as they got ready to get out, Velma Gurule said it looked like an inferno, with giant flames shooting into the sky, and law enforcement shouting, “Get out! Get out!” as sirens blared and the air was full of smoke.

Driving out of the land grant through Moriarty Road, she said it took two hours to get to Moriarty.

The Gurules’ daughter also evacuated.

Orlando Gurule and his family were provided with hotel rooms through United Health for the next three nights. The hotel is in Albuquerque, and the Gurules were at the shelter to stay on top of current information about the fire as well.

Valdez is an Air Force veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom. “My whole family’s up there,” he said, showing this reporter a harrowing video of flames that he found suddenly 200 yards ahead of him.

“I’m a veteran,” he said. “I know nothing material is worth losing your life for.”

He said he understands how the people heir to El Merced de Chilili Land Grant feel about the land, but said, “It’s easy to rebuild but not easy to cheat death.”

Orlando Gurule said simply, “Get what you need and just get out because material things don’t matter.”

Mary Griego is part of the family and has offered her home to friends and relatives to stay, too. She doesn’t live in Chilili any more but said, “We grew up together. I’ve known these people my whole life.”

Frances Herman is an elderly woman who was at the shelter for the day as her son worked on evacuation preparations. Herman lives in the area near Anaya Road and 217 but said she didn’t think the fire would get that far. She said the family has been prepared to evacuate for three days. “It’s all in the Lord’s hands,” she said.