Eleven years ago, my town, Los Alamos, New Mexico evacuated from the Los Conchas Fire. We were out of our home for eight days, and dealt with fire and smoke for weeks following our return. During that time I wrote three posts here on Millennial Star about our experiences.
On Friday April 22, the Cerro Pelado fire started just 10 miles west of Los Alamos. Having been through a fire evacuation and knowing how dry and hot it had already been in Northern New Mexico, I was quickly on edge. As the afternoon wore on the buzz around town and in our local social media pages started to increase. I called some of my ministering sisters to find out what they would need if we had to leave. Some of them didn’t know a fire and started and were full of questions.
For the first two weeks the fire didn’t really grow much and was staying in the containment lines. Then it all changed. As the calendar turned to May the winds started. Every day, all day howling 30-40-50 mile per hour winds were blowing and gusting. The fire started to grow and jump the lines. Then it was doubling every day, and looked to be out of control. Every few days, more fire fighters were sent to fight this blaze, but their efforts seemed to be in vain.
In Los Alamos, and in many western towns we have a program called READY. SET, GO, which we follow during fire season. We’d been sitting at the (get) “Ready” stage for those first two weeks. Friday May 6th we got word from our school district that school was being cancelled next week, as we’d moved into the (get) “SET” stage. All we were waiting for was the “GO” call. I spent Mother’s Day doing laundry and packing us up to leave. That week was long and we waited anxiously every day for news. May 10th, the County evacuated the hospital and the nursing homes in town. Surely we were next.
By May 13th five of the ten wards/branches in the Santa Fe Stake were under active evacuation orders or waiting to evacuate. (The combined Calf Canyon-Hermit’s Peak Fire has devastated the town of Las Vegas, New Mexico and surrounding areas, over 300,000 acres have burned so far) The next Sunday in our ward we had a high council speaker who let us know the First Presidency had called our Stake President for an update on our area. It was comforting and humbling to know that with all of the things they do, our prophet was concerned about us.
By Thursday we’d had some clouds and much cooler overnight temperatures roll in — very uncharacteristic for Northern New Mexico in May. Then we had a night of rain. That rain and the following few days of cooler temps and little to no wind. Finally the fire fighters were making some progress on the fire. The rain allowed the crews to go in an clear brush with this giant machine called mascerator, which could chew up ground cover, bushes, small trees and all of the fuel a fire would need to burn. The call to “GO” never came, and on Saturday, I unpacked our suitcases and put things away. The schools opened back up the next week and things started to go back to “normal”. Truly our prayers had been answered and miracles had been seen. The fire burned up to the border of town and “laid down” which is a term the fire crews use to describe the fire just stopping forward progress.
In a bit of serendipity, our bishop had asked us earlier in the month if we could draft a new ward emergency plan and also teach the 5th Sunday lesson on making a family emergency plan. I’m going to share some of the things I put into our ward’s plan and our lesson with the hope that these things can help your family be more prepared — I will share these things in PART 2, so stay tuned!