Quiet conditions, a smoky haze, and watchful waiting were the order of the day south of the Dog Head Fire, with local emergency responders on hand 24 hours a day making sure fire and law enforcement crews have plenty of food and water.
As this story was written, the Facebook page used by officials to release information posted the fire at 5 percent containment, the first time that number has been higher than zero.
As the massive effort moves into its fifth day, Torrance County deputies and Sheriff Heath White were out in force patrolling evacuated areas to protect homes from looting.
A Torrance County command center is set up at the intersection of highways 55 and 337, where through the week flames and a huge plume of smoke have been visible for days. Today, the air is filled with haze and the Manzanos were mostly obscured by smoke from that location as the wind changed direction.
At Ray’s One Stop in Tajique, owner Lita Estrada said she feels bad for those people who will be coming home to find their homes destroyed by the fire.
The Independent visited the information center set up at the Tajique Community Center, where volunteers on hand there were making sure there was food and drinks for those people who were displaced by the fire, which was close to 18,000 acres as last reported to the newspaper by Torrance County Emergency Manager Javier Sanchez.
Adam Baca was there with his daughter “Ammariya Jo Baca,” as the 3-year-old proudly announced, holding up three fingers. The family is from Chilili and now live in Tajique, Baca said.
Ammariyah said she has seen airplanes and smoke and said the fire was scary. When her grandmother Jennie Keim asked her if she was praying for firefighters, the little girl said, “blood of Jesus over Uncle Aaron.” Her grandma said Uncle Aaron is not a firefighter but somebody her granddaughter offers prayers for often.
Reim said her role was to make sure people were comfortable, and relaying them to Steve Guetchow, the county’s planning and zoning director, and for the duration of the emergency, the county’s spokesman at that location.
Guetchow said that about 35 people came to the community center looking for information Thursday, with another rush of people Friday afternoon after the wind shifted and turned the direction the fire was moving.
He said that some people were delivering food, water and other supplies to people whose power had been cut but were not in the evacuation zone.
Over at the command center, Torrance County Manager Joy Ansley has been working at her regular job in between her time at the mobile center set up to provide food, water and other necessities to law enforcement officers and firefighters.
Ansley said they expect to feed about 50 people per meal, mostly deputies, State Police, and National Guard troops stationed at the location, and have fed 100 at a time.
The firefighters on-scene are well-provided for also, Ansley said.
“We’re holding up fine,” Ansley said. “We go up into the fire and check on things. We make sure communication is up and running.” She added that every location set up to deal with the fire has been inundated with supplies, with enough water to fill a pool and plenty of food. “The community has really pulled together.”
While this reporter was there, Frank Casaus of the State Police said there had been a gofundme page set up for someone who said she lost her house. No names or locations of structures destroyed have been released by officials at this time, and Casaus said they were checking to see if the plea was bogus or not.
An interview with White was interrupted when one of the department’s units left the post at a high rate of speed. White followed moments later. Within the next few minutes another five or six deputies had sped past.
White said deputies are working around the clock to prevent looting, and said there have been some incidents of people on ATVs cutting fences and entering the evacuation area off-road.
Roadblocks are set up on N.M. 337 in Tijeras and at N.M. 55, restricting traffic severely to only local residents. Some local residents have not been allowed back in, depending on where their property is relative to the fire.
Evacuation Shelter in Estancia
Meanwhile, back at the evacuation shelter in Estancia, volunteers were feeding and watering the menagerie now housed there.
The air was fragrant in the way only a barn full of various animals can be, the sweet smell of grass hay mixed with animal smells. The air was full of bleats, barks and moos as volunteers, including former Torrance County Commissioner Tito Chavez and his wife Elaine, fed and watered the animals.
The CERT, or Community Emergency Response Team, had an even larger pile of pet and human food than yesterday, and Danny Strode of Southwest Propane in Moriarty answered CERT’s call for an ATV this morning, which volunteer Rosanna Aragon said the group had put to good use.
With many of the CERT volunteers needed to return to work Monday, the shelter is being turned over to a new group, she said.
Melody Everett and her daughter Annie evacuated Thursday with 10 goats, a mule, four lambs, a dog and a cat. That was according to Annie Everett, who last year was the reporter for Estancia FFA and this year is its vice president.
The family was in good spirits as they hung around the back of their truck near the barn where there animals are housed, watching the fire and the weather conditions, and waiting.
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]