Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
LAS VEGAS, N.M. – Dion Maes and Roger Lucero were hunkered down in Lucero’s 2008 Ford F-150 pickup truck in the parking lot of Memorial Middle School in Las Vegas on Tuesday afternoon. A stiff, chilly breeze was blowing.
The school has been serving as a shelter for those forced to evacuate their homes because of the fires raging in northern New Mexico.
Maes and Lucero qualify. Maes is from Mora but had been staying for some weeks at Lucero’s home in Carmen, about a dozen miles south of Mora. The 54-year-olds are lifelong friends and attended Mora High School together.
Last Thursday, they drove to Las Vegas to get away from the smoke in Carmen and were not allowed to return when they tried to go back.
Since then, they have been living in the truck, staying nights in state parks. On Monday night they were at Storrie Lake State Park.
“We froze our butts off,” said Maes. “I brought just two pairs of pants with me. We are out of resources. We are short on fuel and funds. I’m just nervous as hell. I don’t have the words. We are homeless is what we are.”
“This is a very serious thing,” Lucero said.
Even so, fire officials are making progress on the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire in San Miguel and Mora counties, though dry lightning and high winds from thunderstorms could fuel fire weather later this week, fire officials said Tuesday evening.
The fire has burned about 60,600 acres and is 20% contained.
Incident commander Carl Schwope said crews are attacking the 180 miles of fire perimeter in “tough country.”
“Everybody is working to really make this fire area secure so we can change these evacuation levels,” Schwope said.
Crews have prepped homes in Upper Gallinas Canyon in case the fire’s southern edge flares up, said operations section chief Jayson Coil.
Work continues on the northwest side of the fire that could pose a threat to Mora later this week.
San Miguel County Sheriff Chris Lopez said officials are about 70% done assessing structural damage.
“One of the main issues is not being able to get into those areas that are still too hot,” Lopez said. “We made a couple notifications (about structure loss) today, and tomorrow we’re going to start making a bunch more.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Coil said some residents had been interfering with firefighter operations in closed areas.
“Don’t go into the areas that you’re not supposed to be in yet that have been evacuated,” Coil said. “Don’t impersonate firefighters and don’t impede their work … please just let us do our job. We want to put this fire out. We want to get you guys back in your homes.”
Smoke from the many wildfires burning in northern New Mexico will likely impact Pendaries, Rociada, Mora, Sapello, Watrous, Wagon Mound, Ocate and La Cueva.
Back in Las Vegas, Maes and Lucero only found out about the shelter at the school on Tuesday. They were able to get food there and were considering asking to be allowed to sleep on cots available in the building.
“We thought we could get by without taking (beds) from the really needy, but now we find ourselves in need,” Maes said.
Red Cross officials say as many as 200 cots are available at the shelter, but so far only 15 to 20 people per night have been using them. That number is expected to increase as people run low on money to pay for motels or are unable to continue to stay with friends.
One person staying overnight at the shelter is Regina Lucero, 44, no relation to Roger. She fears the house she had been living in for just a couple of months in Ocate, 24 miles northwest of Wagon Mound, has been lost to the Cooks Peak Fire. She lived there with her teenage son and daughter and their father.
When she returned to the house recently to get pets that had been left there, she said, “the fire looked bright and orange and like a monster going in and out of the pine trees.”
She believes everything in the area was destroyed.
The children are staying with their father in a trailer in Las Vegas, but Regina is using the shelter for now.
“I’m just grateful we were able to save our animals,” she said, growing emotional as she talked. “But I lost my main purse, everything else.”
Composing herself, she said she was starting a new job as a waitress in Las Vegas on Wednesday, so she can make some money. “I know God will not give me more than I can handle.”
Other Northern NM Fires