What to write after wildfire rips through? As I sit here on my mother-in-law’s couch, many thoughts and emotions well up inside, predominately fear, anger, sadness and hope.

It has been a day shy of a week since my family and I were ousted by the Dog Head fire. We left our home during the wee hours of Tuesday night with little more than ourselves and our animals. The sky over our house near Escabosa looked as if the gates of the inferno were just being the trees. I know countless others shared the same experience.

With animals in tow we relocated to my mother-in-law Leota’s house in Moriarty. With the lack of information coming from the mass media those first days were terrifying. As with many residents directly affected by this fire I looked to The Independent for my updates. The outstanding reporting on part of my mother made all the difference.

13567368_1184846931533648_3996968554407849006_nAs a 30-year resident of this area this is the first time I have ever had to evacuate because of a fire. It has been a veritable roller coaster of emotions, from the apprehension of not knowing if you still have a home, to the fear of the safety of your friends and neighbors. If you have animals the stress only grew. My heart weeps as I watch or mountain burn. The Manzano mountains have been my home and playground all my life. As with many of you, I feel a deep emotional connection with the East Mountain area. There were many sleepless nights for all of us.

On the flip side of this coin I saw something beautiful. A community of amazing people coming together to lend aid to those in need. Everywhere I turned were those people willing to help. Countless times I was offered the necessities of life, not only by my friends, family and co-workers, but by compete strangers with golden hearts. I had the opportunity to ride along with my mother Leota as she made the rounds reporting, to bring us the facts we all needed. We visited the shelter in Estancia and there I met heroes. Without thought to themselves they gave and gave, through food water, time and the care of animals. This applies for all the residents who open their homes and land for evacuees and their critters. As a fellow pet owner, I salute you all. It is lifting to know there are good people out there willing to show our furry family kindness.

I am deeply honored to be part of this community. It is all of you who show the best in humanity, and help restore my faith. To the firefighters—thank you! It takes a special kind of person to leave their family, and hurl themselves into the fray. I cannot begin to imagine what your week has been like. I have nothing but love for you all, and will never muster enough words to express my gratitude. I once again feel compelled to give special thanks to The Independent newspaper and its editor. Leota, your tireless efforts made the difference. I have personally seen the toll this week has taken. It was you alone who found the answers we all sought. If not for your vigilance many of us would have dwelt in the darkness of the unknown. Those of you who tried to keep us “sheltered” by withholding information, just because we live in the country do not mistake us for fools.

A lack of communication is what invites panic. Monumental frustration was born purely from the burden of not knowing how to proceed. The vast majority of East Mountain people accept the fact that fire is a possibility, and with this knowledge, the fire is something we were all prepared for to some degree.Trust in our ability to make intelligent decisions. If you need proof just look to the way this situation was handled privately. Within hours there facilities open, beds, food, and lodging ready, all at the hands and hearts of residents. I watched as only an hour or so passed before my fellow neighbors were organized and ready to evacuate. There were no accidents or mass panic. We handled the situation with the fortitude of mountain people.

Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate all the counties and other government agencies have done, but do not seek to keep us ignorant. Thank the stars we have a reliable local information source. My hat is off to my home community, even in the face of dire odds we came together and showed the bond we share with one another and our mountain home. Thank you!

Leota Harriman
Leota Harriman

Leota started working for The Independent in 2006, working her way up through the ranks. An employee buyout in 2010 led to her ownership of the newspaper. Leota has served on the board of the N.M. Press Association, and is currently its First Vice President. She is passionate about health and wellness, especially mental health, and loves making art. She can be reached at [email protected]