Editor’s note: On June 14, 2016, a mastication machine started the Dog Head Fire that did most of its damage over a week’s time. These stories review the events of those weeks, lessons learned and what happened to people affected by the fire.
One year ago today, a forest fire exploded during a routine thinning procedure near the Fourth of July Campground in the Manzano Mountains, scorching 17,913 acres, destroying 12 single residences and 44 other minor structures.
“The fire will affect our natural resources for the next three generations,” said Juan Sanchez of the Chilili Land Grant, one of the most affected areas.
The fire left ash and debris, some of which went into the water supply. Most of the ash is gone from the water supply, but Sanchez said that the pond in Chilili is “full of silt.”
A major issue in the aftermath of the fire is falling trees.
“We have hundreds of thousands of toothpicks in the mountains,” Sanchez said.
When the fire burned through the Cibola National Forest, it burned the trees’ roots, leaving the very real possibility of trees falling unexpectedly and harming people or property.
“You never know when it’s going to fall,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez would like to thank the Edgewood Soil and Water Conservation District and its staff for their assistance in this time.
“We never got a chance to thank a lot of the people who helped us,” he said.
He also acknowledged help from state lawmakers and singled out former state Sen. Ted Barela specifically for “being there every day during the fire.”
Current Torrance County Commission Chairman Javier Sanchez represents District 3 where the fire happened and was serving as the county’s emergency manager at the time.
“The experience was a real validation of multi-trans-jurisdictional preparation efforts,” Sanchez said about lessons learned from the emergency management perspective.
As for the changes to the area he has noticed the regrowth of vegetation.
“There has been a lot of regrowth. The weather has fueled the greening up which may help minimize flooding,” he said.
The commissioner said there has been a “sustained effort of mitigation” and resources are still available to the county in the event of flooding.
East Mountain Community Emergency Response Team Coordinator Vicki Voyles said there has not been a lot of reclamation of the land, so any measurable rains causes flooding and the water carries debris and limbs downhill.
“We helped sand bag several areas in the creek beds after the fire, because the land is not being worked with heavy equipment to divert the water flow,” Voyles said. “There are several families that are rebuilding, but the same is true of families that built elsewhere. Two of my good friends had to buy new homes and move from a once pristine area. I have not heard about water for consumption, gas lines, or electrical lines being upgraded.”
She said residents fear another wildfire.
“As a matter of fact, First Choice Community Health Care clinic in Edgewood is planning an exercise dealing with an influx of smoke inhalation victims so they are prepared,” Voyles said.
The East Mountain Interagency Fire Protection Association (EMIFPA) discussed lessons learned from the Dog Head Fire at a meeting this past March.
These lessons included flooding and flash flooding, infrastructure disruption such as transportation, communication, electricity, water and energy outages and after-the-fire jurisdictional complexities such as different federal agencies, different forestry divisions, different agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs, the state, different county involvement and others assisting.
“That’s a real challenge to make that work,” Tom Stuart of EMIFPA said in March.