Life at the Peñasco High School Gymnasium


Yesterday I went over to help out at the Peñasco High School Gym, a Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire evacuation center. This is what the fire looked like from the parking lot. It had reached Holman Hill on SH 518 and crossed over from Mora County to Taos County.

Inside the gym, this is what it looks like.

People from Mora, Holman, Cleveland, Chacon, Guadalupita, Ledoux, and many other small communities in San Miguel and Mora counties are being well cared for by the Red Cross, government agencies, and many volunteers. FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) representatives are there taking applications for property loss relief.  Volunteers are cooking meals and sorting clothing.

Others are managing the overwhelming amount of supplies that have been donated.

I spoke with many of the folks who have been there for 10, 12, 15, or 20 days, most of whom don’t know the status of what they left behind. Many others who are camped out in the Carson National Forest or in their RVs in parking lots come in to replenish their supplies. One family from Cleveland had only recently moved to their rental home and were working at local jobs. They may be able to get FEMA relief for any of the house’s contents they own, if it burns, but in the meantime have no income. Their pets provide much comfort.

Another man is there with his two little dogs while the rest of his family is scattered all over northern New Mexico.

I spoke at length with Kate from Guadalupita who raises an organic farm, goats, and chickens with two of her children and their kids. She had to release the chickens when she and her family left, hoping they’d survive on their own, and is now staying in a forest campground. If the fire continues into the Rio Pueblo watershed of the Carson Kate will have to leave the campground and find another refuge for herself and her goats.

Senator Ben Ray Lujan’s field representative Eric Chavez was at the gym and said that he can put people who have livestock in touch with the agencies working to find grazing and feed for them. His contact  numbers are: 505 230-7040 and work cell 505 328-7394. If you’d like to volunteer at the gym contact Annette at 575 770-9042.

Everyone I spoke with yesterday was so grateful for the refuge the gym provides and so warm and friendly to me as I visited with them. But no one wants to spend 20 days—or two days—sleeping on cots in a gym while our forests burn down. This is a tragedy of epic proportions and there is no end in sight. At the Santa Fe Forest briefing yesterday the fire was said to be heading towards the Black Lake, Angel Fire, and Taos Canyon area. Just as I prepared to post this article the Forest Service issued a “Go” mandatory evacuation for Black Lake, Black Resort, and Hidden Lake. Angel Fire Village is in “SET” mode. The fire may also head down into the Rio Pueblo watershed: the Angostura/Alamitos area is also on “GO” for mandatory evacuation.

It’s likely that both the Santa Fe and Carson will enter Stage 3 restrictions soon, meaning no entry for the public and for those of us working on the restoration projects meant to mitigate the kind of behavior that is now on display in this 200,000 acre fire. This is going to be a long, difficult summer not only for the fire refugees but for all of us trying to keep our homesteads and animals safe and viable. I spent the past two days boxing up all the valuables I want to take with me if a fire were to occur here in El Valle. I may be safe for now, but another fire could happen anywhere at any time and we have to be prepared. Good luck to us all.



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