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MON: Parents of APS students injured in school bus crash sue, NM state epidemiologist to leave, + More

APS school bus
Shelby Kleinhans
/
Source NM
Albuquerque Public Schools bus

Parents of Albuquerque kids injured in crash sue car driver - Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

The parents of three children injured in a crash involving an Albuquerque Public Schools bus four months ago have filed a lawsuit against the driver of the speeding car involved and his insurance company.

The Albuquerque Journal reported Sunday that the 2nd Judicial District Court suit was filed on behalf of parents of two girls and a boy – identified only by their initials – who were passengers on the school bus.

The Feb. 23 crash sent five people to the hospital, including several middle school students.

Two students suffered serious injuries including a broken pelvis and a broken femur that required surgery.

The 50-year-old driver of the car involved in the crash allegedly was racing another vehicle at more than 100 mph in a 40 mph zone at the time of the bus collision and facing a criminal trial.

According to the Journal, the lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for medical expenses and "future physical and emotional pain and suffering."

The school bus driver has not been cited in the crash, but the suit alleges that "APS breached its duties of care by failing to exercise reasonable care while operating its vehicle."

NM state epidemiologist leaving next month – By Austin Fisher, Source New Mexico

Even as the COVID-19 pandemic is in full swing, a top infectious disease expert in the New Mexico government is leaving next month.

New Mexico State Epidemiologist Dr. Christine Ross will leave the Department of Health on July 10, acting Health Secretary Dr. David Scrase told reporters during a news conference last week.

“She’s going to spend the summer with her family,” Scrase said. “We’re just so privileged to have her here and sad to see her go.”

Scrase said Ross is an incredible leader and a “great thought partner” to him.

“There’s probably nothing I think about the pandemic that hasn’t been informed by my discussions with her,” Scrase said of Ross.

He said they are supported by the state epidemiology team who have worked “many, many, many weekends here since the beginning of the pandemic.” He said New Mexico has been a national leader among state governments’ pandemic responses and credited that to Ross’ work managing large amounts of data and sharing it with the CDC.

DOH spokesperson Jodi McGinnis Porter said the department is advertising for Ross’ replacement.

The state epidemiologist’s job involves overseeing the Epidemiology and Response Division at DOH, using health data to support public health policy, and advising the health secretary and senior leadership on epidemiology, evaluation, scientific evidence and health policy, according to the advertisement for the position.

“Leadership will designate an acting person when she leaves,” McGinnis Porter said.

The announcement that Ross is leaving DOH comes when New Mexico is reporting a seven-day rolling average of 929 new cases per day.

But the true count is much higher, somewhere between 2,787 and 9,290 cases per day, according to DOH estimates. Scrase said he thinks reported cases should be multiplied by between three and 10 times to get the true count, in part because testing is mostly being done at home, and only a fraction of those tests that come up positive are actually reported to the state.

By the beginning of July, an average of nearly five people in New Mexico are projected to die from COVID each day, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, an independent global health research center at the University of Washington.

The center’s model predicts that the average daily death rate throughout July would be reduced by about half — if 80% of New Mexico residents were to always wear masks in public.

Consistent mask wearing in New Mexico as of Thursday was only 22%, and is projected to decrease to 10% by mid-July, according to the center.

The Washington Post reported in May that the U.S. overall could see 100 million coronavirus infections and a potentially significant wave of deaths this fall and winter.

Building anger in rural New Mexico erupts in election crisis - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

Behind the raw public frustration and anger over election security that has played out this week in New Mexico was a hint of something deeper -- a growing divide between the state's Democratic power structure and conservative rural residents who feel their way of life is under attack.

In Otero County, where the crisis over certifying the state's June 7 primary election began, County Commissioner Vickie Marquardt struck a defiant tone as she relented under pressure from the state's Democratic attorney general, Democratic secretary of state and a state Supreme Court dominated by Democratic appointees.

One of the main explanations she gave for reversing course had nothing to do with questions over the security of voting machines — the reason the all-Republican, three-member commission had originally refused to certify its election.

"If we get removed from office, nobody is going to be here fighting for the ranchers, and that's where our fight should be right now," said Marquardt, the commission chairwoman in a county where former President Donald Trump won nearly 62% of the vote in 2020.

Otero County is similar to the handful of other New Mexico counties where residents have questioned the accuracy of election results and given voice to unfounded conspiracy theories about voting systems that have rippled across the country since former President Donald Trump lost re-election in 2020.

In the state's vast, rural stretches, frustration over voting and political representation has been building for years. Residents have felt marginalized and overrun by government decisions that have placed limits on livelihoods — curtailing access to water for livestock, shrinking the amount of forest land available for grazing, or halting timber operations and energy developments due to endangered species concerns.

Tensions have mounted as Democrats in New Mexico consolidate control over every statewide office and the Supreme Court. Democrats have dominated the Legislature for generations.

Even as they voted to certify their elections, sometimes reluctantly, commissioners from several New Mexico counties said they were bound by the law to take that step — thanks to legislation passed by Democrats. They urged their residents to take the fight to the statehouse.

Some bemoaned what they felt was an encroachment by the state on the powers of local government. Marquardt, from Otero County, complained of her commission's meager "rubber stamping" authority under laws enacted by Democrats and an election certification "railroaded" through by larger forces.

Otero County is among more than a dozen self-proclaimed 2nd Amendment "sanctuary" counties in rural New Mexico to approve defiant resolutions against recent state gun control laws. The county also has embraced resistance to President Joe Biden's goals for conservation of more private land and waterways for natural habitat, arguing it will cordon off already limited private land.

Amid alienation, skepticism about the security of elections has taken flight.

On Friday, Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin was the lone dissenting vote in the election certification, though he acknowledged that he had no evidence of problems or factual basis for questioning the results of the election. His vote came after the county elections clerk said the primary went off without a hitch and that the results were confirmed afterward.

The former rodeo rider and co-founder of Cowboys for Trump dialed into the meeting because he was in Washington, D.C., where hours before he had been sentenced for entering restricted U.S. Capitol grounds during the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.

Applause rang out when Griffin declared, "I think we need to hold our ground."

The developments in New Mexico can be traced to far-right conspiracy theories over voting machines that have spread across the country over the past two years. Various Trump allies have claimed that Dominion voting systems had somehow been manipulated as part of an elaborate scheme to steal the election, which Biden won.

There has been no evidence of widespread fraud that would have changed the results of the 2020 presidential election, and testimony before the congressional committee investigating the insurrection has made clear that many in Trump's inner circle told him the same as he schemed to retain power.

The election clash that erupted this past week worries Dian Burwell, a registered independent and coffee shop manager in the Otero County seat of Alamogordo.

"We want people to vote and when they see all this, they'll just say, 'Why bother?'" Burwell said.

Despite New Mexico counties' eventual votes to certify their primary results, election officials and experts fear the mini-rebellion is just the start of efforts nationwide to sow chaos around voting and vote-counting, building toward the 2024 presidential election. The New Mexico secretary of state's office said it had been inundated with calls from officials around the country concerned that certification controversies will become a new front in the attacks on democratic norms.

In another New Mexico county where residents angrily denounced the certification, commissioners were denounced as "cowards and traitors" by a hostile crowd before voting. Torrance County Commissioner LeRoy Candelaria, a Republican and Vietnam veteran, voted to certify the results without apologies, despite the personal insults.

The semi-retired rancher and highway maintenance foreman said he has taken time outside commission meetings to explain his position that New Mexico's vote-counting machines are well-tested and monitored.

"Our county clerk did an excellent job. I don't think there's a vote that went wrong in any way," Candelaria said later in a telephone interview. "My personal opinion is there are people who are still mad about the last presidential election. ... Let's worry about the next election and not take things personally."

Albuquerque police fatally shoot man who refused to drop gun - Associated Press, Albuquerque Journal

Police in Albuquerque fatally shot a man Sunday after he told officers he had a gun and refused several orders to drop it, authorities said.

Police Chief Harold Medina said the shooting occurred around 3:30 a.m.

He said investigators have retrieved what appears to be an airsoft gun from the scene and noted that the shooting appears to be a so-called suicide by cop.

According to police, a vehicle approached them and the man inside said he had a gun and the officers were going to have to shoot him.

Medina said the officers gave the man several commands to drop the weapon but he did not and eventually shots were fired.

The man was transported to a hospital and died of gunshot wounds, according to police.

The Albuquerque Journal reports this is the fifth person APD officers have shot and killed so far this year.

His name has not yet been released.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the New Mexico Crisis and Access Line at 1-855-NM-CRISIS (662-7474). 

Momentum grows for permanent protections for Caja del Rio - By Matt Dahlseid Santa Fe New Mexican

The convergence of culture, history and ecology on the stunning landscape of the Caja del Rio makes the rugged volcanic plateau critical to the story of New Mexico and the Pueblo and Hispano people whose ancestors have called this area home for generations, advocates say.

In the wake of the defacement of the centuries-old La Cieneguilla Petroglyphs in January, and amid continued threats to the land and the dense concentration of cultural resources held within the Caja del Rio, a growing coalition of diverse voices has ramped up efforts to gain enhanced federal protections for the 106,000-acre area that lies between the Rio Grande and Santa Fe.

Recent resolutions by local governing bodies, including the All Pueblo Council of Governors and the Santa Fe County Commission, have called on President Joe Biden and the New Mexico congressional delegation to take action to provide permanent protections to the Caja del Rio in consultation with its traditional land users.

A similar resolution recently was introduced before the Santa Fe City Council, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.

Councilor Renee Villarreal is a primary sponsor of the resolution with Chris Rivera. Councilors Amanda Chavez, Jamie Cassutt, Michael Garcia and Lee Garcia are co-sponsors.

Villarreal said the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management lack personnel and resources to properly manage the Caja del Rio, which faces threats including off-highway vehicle use in unauthorized areas, vandalism of cultural sites, illegal dumping and misuse by some recreational shooters.

"I think federal agencies with jurisdiction over this area, they've provided insufficient management and resources to be able to patrol, monitor and protect the antiquities within the Caja del Rio," said Villarreal, who expects the City Council resolution to receive a final vote at the end of the month. "Part of it is that they lack the resources to do so, so providing permanent protection actually commits proper funding."

About 67,000 acres of the Caja del Rio are managed by the Santa Fe National Forest's Española Ranger District. Most of the remainder of the plateau, including the La Cieneguilla Petroglyphs, falls under the jurisdiction of the BLM's Taos Field Office.

District Ranger Sandra Imler-Jacquez of the Española Ranger District acknowledged illegal dumping of large objects such as abandoned cars has been a major problem in the Caja del Rio. She said resources have had to be devoted to cleanup that should be addressing other needs.

She said she welcomes the support of county and city partners to aid in managing the unique landscape.

Imler-Jacquez added that the Santa Fe National Forest this year is implementing a new forest plan that will replace the one adopted in 1987.

"In the new plan, the Caja is identified as its own management area — the Caja Del Rio Wildlife and Cultural Interpretive Management Area," Imler-Jacquez said. "We will be working with our many partners, including tribal partners and city and county governments, on collaborative ways to manage and protect this area that is so important to so many people."

Many outdoor recreation and conservation groups — including New Mexico Wild, the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, HECHO (Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting and the Outdoors) and the Native American Fish and Wildlife Society — have joined in support of permanent preservation of the Caja del Rio.

The Rev. Andrew Black, a Santa Fe native and minister at First Presbyterian Church, has been heavily involved in facilitating dialogue on the issue with a wide spectrum of local stakeholders to consider what management plan and federal designation — such as a national monument or national conservation area — would best suit the Caja del Rio's unique characteristics. Those decisions remain up in the air.

Black also leads multiple educational tours of the Caja del Rio each week to help people gain a better understanding of the rich history and ecological significance of the plateau, which stretches from La Bajada north to Diablo Canyon.

He likes to share how what was originally a wild game trail through the Caja turned into a Pueblo footpath, and centuries later became part of the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, a trade route that connected Mexico City with Ohkay Owingeh near present-day Española during the Spanish colonial era. A few hundred years later, it became N.M. 1 running up La Bajada. A few decades after that, the section of N.M. 1 crossing the Caja del Rio became part of Route 66.

The mesas, rolling hills, steep canyons and open grasslands of the Caja del Rio were largely unknown to many Santa Feans through much of the 1900s. Black said it has received more visitation and recognition since then as the city has expanded and roads including the N.M. 599 bypass have been built to allow for easier access.

"The Caja del Rio is really one of those national treasures that's kind of hidden right beneath our feet," said Black, founder of Earthkeepers 360 and the public lands field director for the National Wildlife Federation. "For me growing up in this area, the Caja was one of those areas that a lot of folks didn't know about but have kind of learned more and more about over the past decade."

The increased traffic has led to an increase in issues and a rise in concern for those who care about the land.

In organizing a coalition of support for permanent protections for the Caja del Rio, Black said he's spoken with residents of the neighboring communities of La Cienega and La Cieneguilla, pueblo leaders, traditional Hispanic land users and outdoor enthusiasts.

He said it's a collaborative process to work toward determining what designation will allow for continued cultural uses, such as livestock grazing for permit holders and religious ceremonies for tribal members, to occur in tandem with the conservation of habitat that serves as an important wildlife corridor. Elk, mule deer, bears, mountain lions, burrowing owls and wild horses are among the wide array of creatures that live in and pass through the area.

"We obviously want to work with the congressional delegation and the administration to say, 'How do we make sure that we maintain these traditional ways of life, access to these sacred areas, and maintain the ecological integrity of the Caja del Rio while also balancing the need for responsible recreation opportunity and access?" Black said.

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., has in recent years championed legislation that has brought increased protections to wilderness areas of the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument near Taos.

He said he's also eager to support stakeholders involved with the Caja del Rio to help protect their cherished spaces.

"Communities in New Mexico understand just how important it is that we come together to conserve our land and water for future generations," Heinrich said. "I look forward to hearing from local residents and working with them to realize their vision for the important historic and cultural landscape that is the Caja del Rio."

Santa Fe County Commissioner Anna Hansen said one of her main goals in this process is to promote more responsible recreation on the Caja, particularly among those who shoot firearms on public land.

A co-sponsor of the resolution for permanent preservation of the Caja del Rio that the commission passed last month, Hansen said there have been reports of some shooters not finding safe backdrops, like large mounds, while using their firearms. This has led to multiple vehicles parked in the Las Campanas community being struck by bullets, she said, and some constituents have expressed feeling unsafe riding their bikes or hiking along the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro National Historic Trail that goes through the Caja.

Hansen said she's been speaking with BLM officials, the New Mexico Game and Fish Department and local stakeholders about establishing a developed shooting range close to an area known as the Camel Tracks near the southern end of the Caja del Rio.

The goal would be to reduce conflict from target shooting activities by creating a developed range the greater Santa Fe community has lacked.

"I know we're never going to get rid of the bad actors, but the people who are responsible gun owners want to have a safe place to go practice and shoot. I want to make sure that they have that," she said.

Hansen also mentioned the County Commission resolution's inclusion of threats of development on the land, including a proposed power transmission line in the northeastern corner of the Caja by Los Alamos National Laboratory that is intended to meet the laboratory's increasing power demand. Hansen said any new additions should use the existing Buckman Direct Diversion easement and not cut across any other areas of the Caja.

In working on the mission to protect these lands, Black said it's been inspiring to see how this area where cultures converged centuries ago continues to bring people together.

"It speaks to that real deep connection of who we are as New Mexicans," Black said. "Our identity is tied to the land and the water and the wildlife. There's really no better place that highlights it than the Caja del Rio."

New Mexico man breathes sigh of relief after lung transplant - By Rick Nathanson Albuquerque Journal

Rudy Lucero believes in miracles. He sees one each time he looks in the mirror.

The Albuquerque resident is recovering in a Colorado hospital after having a May 2 double lung transplant, made necessary after a COVID-19 infection scarred his lungs and made breathing nearly impossible.

He expects that he and his wife, Deborah, will have to remain in Colorado another 2-3 months as he continues to get stronger and more independent.

Colorado is a good place to be, considering where Rudy was heading.

"I'm really close to the way I felt before I got sick, but I've lost a lot of weight and my muscles are weak," Rudy told the Albuquerque Journal. "I've been going to pulmonary rehab, just trying to get stronger."

All he knows of his organ donor is that the lungs came from a 33-year-old male. The hospital, he said, would not release any additional information.

On New Year's Day, 2021, Rudy and his then longtime girlfriend, Deborah Ortiz, both tested positive for COVID-19. Vaccines had just started to become available and the couple did not yet have access to them. Over the next five days, as Deborah got better, Rudy, who also has diabetes, experienced a profound deterioration in his ability to breathe. He wound up being rushed by ambulance to a hospital.

Rudy, 55, and Deborah, 53, had each been married before. They had known one another for more than 15 years and had plans to get married and have a honeymoon in Hawaii. Rudy had even traveled to Los Angeles to purchase a zoot suit for the occasion.

COVID-19 put the kibosh on that.

As Rudy lingered in a bed at Lovelace Medical Center, he realized he faced an uncertain future and suggested that he and Deborah get married right away. So on Feb. 7, 2021, Super Bowl Sunday, they exchanged vows — Rudy still in his hospital bed, and Deborah in the parking lot below, holding a cellphone with an audio-video connection and surrounded by about 100 mask-wearing friends and a procession of classic cars.

On June 23, closing in on a six-month hospitalization, Deborah was finally able to take Rudy home, but life was not easy for him. Rudy, who owned a plumbing company for 30 years, had to sell his business. Deborah, formerly a cosmetologist, became Rudy's primary caregiver.

More than 70% of his lungs were scarred, causing a permanent condition called pulmonary fibrosis, which would require him to be on oxygen for the rest of his life, his doctors informed him.

In October, Rudy experienced another setback. He was hospitalized with pulmonary hypertension, which causes the heart to work at a dangerously high rate to pump blood through the lungs. It was at that point, Deborah said, "that we started talking about a double lung transplant," a discussion they had hoped to put off as long as possible.

In March, the couple went to the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Center in Aurora, which has a lung transplant program. With his oxygen levels still falling, Rudy was placed on the transplant list and eight pairs of donor lungs were considered before an acceptable pair was located. The surgery took more than eight hours, Rudy said.

"There's a small window where someone can be not yet sick enough to have the transplant, but then there's also a line where a person can be too sick to have the transplant," Deborah said. "Rudy was close to being too sick."

When he finally awoke 24 hours after the surgery, it was a revelation, Rudy said. "I was breathing normal. It was crazy. The way I was living before, there was no quality of life. I couldn't get up and go to the bathroom without gasping for air, so this was amazing. I'm still on a little bit of oxygen, but eventually I won't need it at all."

He will, however, have to take anti-rejection medication for the rest of his life, an assortment of 15 to 20 pills daily.

"It's not a possibility of rejection, he will definitely have rejection at one point or another, if not multiple times," Deborah said. "But as long as we keep on top of it, and when we see signs — a common cold, fatigue, fever — we can let the doctors know immediately and they can test him quickly and give him antibiotics or whatever he's going to need. But it's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when."

For the next couple of months or so, the couple is living close to the medical center in housing subsidized by Brent's Place, a nonprofit that helps people like the Luceros. Rudy goes to pulmonary rehab three times a week and visits his doctor once a week.

Deborah, in the meantime, is planning their return to Albuquerque and the more elaborate wedding that they missed out on earlier, including the procession of classic cars adorned with a thousand tissue paper flowers that have been waiting in storage.

"We had a really, really rough year and a half, and if it has anything to do with the marriage vows about 'in sickness and in health,' well, we've already done the sickness part, so it's time to do the healthy part and be happy," Deborah said.

Rudy knows how lucky he is to have survived the medical crisis. "I would never have made it without Deborah," he said.

And every day he gets up and looks in the mirror he recognizes that his second chance at life "is nothing short of a miracle."

Arizona fires sweep land rich with ancient sites, artifacts - By Felicia Fonseca Associated Press

As Jason Nez scans rugged mountains, high desert and cliffsides for signs of ancient tools and dwellings unique to the U.S. Southwest, he keeps in mind that they're part of a bigger picture.

And, fire is not new to them.

"They have been burned many, many times, and that's healthy," said Nez, a Navajo archaeologist and firefighter. "A lot of our cultural resources we see as living, and living things are resilient."

As a pair of wildfires skirt this mountainous northern Arizona city, the flames are crossing land dense with reminders of human existence through centuries — multilevel stone homes, rock carvings and pieces of clay and ceramic pots that have been well-preserved in the arid climate since long before fire suppression became a tactic.

Today, firefighting crews increasingly are working to avoid or minimize damage from bulldozers and other modern-day tools on archaeological sites and artifacts, and protect those on public display to ensure history isn't lost on future generations.

"Some of those arrowheads, some of those pottery sherds (broken ceramics) you see out there have that power to change the way we look at how humans were here," Nez said.

The crews' efforts include recruiting people to advise them on wildlife and habitat, air quality and archaeology. In Arizona, a handful of archaeologists have walked miles in recent months locating evidence of meaningful past human activity in and around scorched areas and mapping it for protection.

Just last week, a crew spotted a more than 1,000-year-old semi-buried dwelling known as a pit house.

"We know this area is really important to tribes, and it's ancestral land for them," said U.S. Forest Service archaeologist and tribal relations specialist Jeanne Stevens. "When we do more survey work, it helps add more pieces to the puzzle in terms of what's on the landscape."

It's not just the scattered ruins that need protecting.

The nearby Wupatki National Monument — a center of trade for Indigenous communities around the 1100s — was evacuated because of wildfire twice this year. Exhibits there hold priceless objects, including 800-year-old corn, beans and squash, along with intact stone Clovis points used for hunting that date back some 13,000 years.

Before the first wildfire hit in April, forcing the evacuation of the monument and hundreds of homes outside Flagstaff, there was no set plan on how quickly to get the artifacts out because wildfire wasn't seen as an imminent threat to Wupatki.

"Now with climate change, conditions have become different, hence a new plan," monument curator Gwenn Gallenstein said.

Gallenstein assembled nested boxes with cavities for larger items and foam pouches for arrowheads and other smaller artifacts. She had photographs for each item so whoever was tasked with the packaging would know exactly where to put them, she said.

Gallenstein created a training plan on how to pack up ceramic pots, bone tools, sandals, textiles woven from cotton grown in the area and other things before another large wildfire broke out June 12 and the monument was closed again. No one expected to put the plan into action so soon.

The fires have so far avoided the facility. Several boxes of items that trace back to what archaeologists say are distinct Indigenous cultures were taken to the Museum of Northern Arizona for safekeeping.

Some Hopi clans consider those who lived at Wupatki their ancestors. Navajo families later settled the area but slowly left, either voluntarily or under pressure by the National Park Service, which sought to eliminate private use of the land once it became a monument in 1924.

The monument has some 2,600 archaeological sites across 54 square miles, representing a convergence of cultures on the Colorado Plateau in the Four Corners where New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah meet. The region includes the Grand Canyon, the Painted Desert, Hopi mesas, volcanic cinder fields, the largest contiguous ponderosa pine forest in the U.S. and the San Francisco Peaks — a mountain sacred to 13 Native American tribes.

"That gives you an idea of the density of the cultural history here, and that continues outside the national monument boundaries into the national forest," said Lauren Carter, the monument's lead interpretive ranger.

The Coconino National Forest on the southern edge of the plateau has surveyed just 20% of its 2,900 square miles (7,510 square kilometers) and logged 11,000 archaeological sites, Stevens said. Forest restoration work that includes mechanical thinning and prescribed burns has given archaeologists an opportunity to map sites and log items. More discoveries are expected because of the current wildfires, especially in the more remote areas, Stevens said.

The arid climate has helped preserve many of the artifacts and sites. But it's also the type of environment that is prone to wildfires, particularly with a mix of fierce winds and heat that were all too common in the U.S. West this spring as megadroughts linked to climate change baked the region.

Stevens recalled working on a wildfire in 2006 in the White Mountains of eastern Arizona and a prison crew coming across a great kiva — a circular stone structure built into the earth and used for ceremonies. "That was something that was really notable," she said. "Where we've been having fires lately, we do have a lot of survey and a lot of knowledge, but we're always ready for that new discovery."

Nez, too, has made rare finds, including two Clovis points and village sites on a mountainside that he wasn't expecting to see.

"There's going to be pottery sherds, there's going to be projectile points," he tells firefighting crews and managers. "In Native cultures, those things are out there, and we respect them by leaving them alone."

Arizona wildfire near Kitt Peak observatory 40% contained - Associated Press

A lightning-caused wildfire that led to an evacuation of the Kitt Peak National Observatory southwest of Tucson is 40% contained, authorities said.

More than 300 firefighters were working the wildfire Saturday. If all goes as planned, authorities said the blaze could be fully contained by next Sunday.

The wind-whipped fire started June 11 on a remote ridge on the Tohono O'odham Indian Reservation, about 8 miles southeast of Kitt Peak.

It had grown to 27.5 square miles before rain fell on the area Saturday. The fire was about 30 square miles by Sunday.

Flames had reached Kitt Peak by Thursday, and officials evacuated a small community north of the mountain.

Four non-scientific buildings on the west side of the observatory property — a house, a dorm, and two minor outbuildings — were destroyed. But authorities said early indications show the fire didn't damage the telescope.

Structure protection crews have successfully placed defensible lines around all remaining structures at Kitt Peak, according to firefighters.

The University of Arizona, which has had a telescope at the site since 1962, is a tenant of the observatory.

In northern New Mexico, authorities who are concerned about the threat of post-wildfire floods as the state enters monsoon season have warned residents of San Miguel and Mora counties to be ready to evacuate due to flooding risks, the Albuquerque Journal reported.

The largest area facing flooding threats is where a fire that began two months ago has so far burned 533 square miles. The fire is 72% contained.