Some who originally stayed in Mora join the now 15,500 NM wildfire evacuees
The Calf Canyon-Hermits Peak Fire in northeastern New Mexico remains the largest wildfire burning in the country. While forest officials say weaker winds Monday allowed firefighters to make progress on its containment, winds returned Tuesday afternoon and are forecast for Wednesday, as well. The fire has burned more than 145,000 acres and is 20% contained. About 15,500 homes are under mandatory evacuation and 170 homes have been destroyed. Source New Mexico’s Shaun Griswold was on the ground in Mora last week and has continued to follow the fire and the northern New Mexico residents impacted by it. He came on KUNM's All Things Considered to provide an update.
KUNM: You spent several days in Mora behind the evacuation line for Source New Mexico. What did you see and hear from people who stayed put there?
GRISWOLD: Yes. So, when I went in there, there was an estimated 300 people who had stayed. This was individuals who are living in Mora proper, who own restaurants, who are choosing to feed individuals who either aren't leaving, chose to stay whether because they're a volunteer fire official and just wanting to protect their land, or they're just a person who just feels as if they have too much invested in their property that leaving is just not an option for them. And so, I was going around with this crew called the Mora Shot Rangers. And they actually started as a group that was distributing COVID-19 vaccines to people in the Mora Valley. And so, they transitioned their mutual aid effort to provide up to 200 to 300 meals for people in Mora County. And so, what you saw on some of these people's homes is you saw burn scars. I saw people putting out hotspots themselves. I saw people who had built fire trucks at a farm equipment so that they could put out hotspots around their homes. And you saw an overall community effort of people that are just trying to do as much as they can to protect their community.
KUNM: As the fire worsened and shifted over the weekend, have any of them stayed put?
GRISWOLD: So, when I was first out there, everyone was kind of keeping their eyes on the mountain and said, 'As soon as I see those flames coming over, that's when I'm going to go.' And so, those flames did arrive, and people have started to leave.
KUNM: And are you hearing about where folks who are evacuating are going?
GRISWOLD: Yes. So, the evacuation centers are set up in San Miguel County as well as state parks – fees are waived, so people can park. But evacuation centers aren't full. And that's because a lot of people are finding themselves with family members across the state.
KUNM: What does the support look like in terms of getting food and supplies to people who have evacuated versus those who are staying behind those evacuation lines?
GRISWOLD: People who evacuated – they have gas stations, they have power, they have electricity, they have, you know, access to stores where they can buy groceries. But if they're at a shelter, they're also getting aid from the state or from the Red Cross. And so, they are taken care of, because that's where the predominant amount of resources are directed towards. Now, for those that are staying – they don't have power, and they haven't had power since the fire started. And so, unless you have a generator running, you're basically without any electricity. Your entire stock of frozen food that you've had, that you've been stocking up for years, is spoiling. One of these groups that were going around and distributing hot meals to people was also providing access to a generator, a roving generator, so people could like plug in their freezer just to keep that food frozen and prepared and saved for them. And so, the needs are much different.
KUNM: And do you have any update on the larger city of Las Vegas in terms of risk and evacuation there as the fire approaches?
GRISWOLD: Yes. This week, we saw some of the communities west of Las Vegas closer to the mountain get set onto evacuation notice. And that's put other areas in the town also on notice to where they are preparing for an evacuation if they have to go. The state is updating that. They have a map updated online, but they're also providing text alerts that people who are in the area will receive whether they need to be prepared to go or whether they actually have to go.