'Very, very bad day' makes neighbors of neighbors - Albuquerque Journal

‘Very, very bad day’ makes neighbors of neighbors

She had heard the April 22 forecast, the incendiary combination of high winds and low humidity that portended a devastating conflagration with a single errant spark.

It was hard to ignore the ominous prediction. The National Weather Service in Albuquerque had repeatedly warned of a “very, very bad day” that Friday.

Katie Bock hadn’t been overly concerned. Her Los Rios neighborhood in Rio Rancho near Corrales Road and N.M. 528 is mostly desert and safely away from bosque or forest.

And besides, she was more than 1,600 miles away visiting family in North Carolina, where it was a balmy Friday with a light 3 mph breeze and nearly 70% humidity.

Then the text messages from her neighbors started coming.

Just as predicted, fires were exploding across New Mexico – and one of them was three doors north of her home.

Sophie Shurter, 17, left, and Brooke “Cue” Curley, 18, survey the charred remains of their neighbor’s home on April 26, 2022, near Corrales. The two Cleveland High School seniors rescued neighbors from a burning house last Friday. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

The strongest steel, they say, is forged by fire. Back home, Bock was learning that fire was forging a stronger community, from the two teens who rescued an elderly couple from their burning home to those who came together to help the couple once the fire was out.

“It is amazing how all of the neighbors have connected – the only good thing to come out of this,” Bock said. “We do vary in our political views, but we take care of each other.”

Neighbors say the fire broke out at the home of Mary and Al McCoy on Rio Ruidoso NE around 2 p.m. last Friday.

Sophie Shurter, 17, and her friend Brooke “Cue” Curley, 18, both seniors at V. Sue Cleveland High School and just weeks from graduation, were hanging out at the Shurter home when they smelled the smoke, saw the flames and heard Mary McCoy’s screams for help three doors north.

Sophie’s dad, Tony Shurter, who works a night shift in Los Alamos, was also home, in pajamas and barefoot.

“By the time I put my shoes on, the house was engulfed,” he said. “I would have been too late to save my neighbors.”

An aerial view of a home on Rio Ruidoso NE in Rio Rancho shows the devastation caused by a wind-fueled fire Friday. (Courtesy of Tony Shurter)

So would Rio Rancho firefighters, who arrived quickly, but not before flames fanned by howling winds clocked at 44 mph had all but destroyed the home.

“It was unprecedented,” Rio Rancho Battalion Chief Ryan Floersheim said. “The house fire was fully involved.”

But the girls were in time.

Without hesitation, they rushed into the burning house and brought out Al McCoy, who is 85 and weakened by a stroke. They also rescued Mary McCoy, 77, who was outside, but unwilling to leave her husband of nearly 60 years.

“Those girls didn’t think twice about running into that burning house,” said Sophie’s mother, Kylee Shurter. “They’re more curious about those who wouldn’t.”

Firefighters worked heroically to keep the fire from spreading to other homes, despite the extreme winds and lack of fire hydrants in the neighborhood.

“I’ve never seen a response like it,” Tony Shurter said. “That fire could have easily burned down this neighborhood, shot right up the arroyo, and that dense, dry sagebrush and tumbleweeds would have burned up like tinder.”

The cause of the fire remains under investigation, Floersheim said this week. He also confirmed that the McCoy’s dog was a fatality in the fire.

So much damage was done. Al McCoy, who suffered severe injuries to his lungs, remains hospitalized, intubated and in perilous condition. Mary McCoy also suffered lung damage, but refused to remain in the hospital, one neighbor said.

The couple lost everything. But they gained a community that has rallied around them.

“It’s such a God story,” said Lynley York, a nurse who lives in nearby Corrales. “The amazing thing to me is how the community stepped up.”

Strong winds and fire destroyed this home on Rio Ruidoso NE on April 22, 2022, but Rio Rancho firefighters managed to contain the blaze to the one home. (Courtesy of Tony Shurter)

The night before the fire, York said she had been awakened several times by thoughts of a house fire. That, she believes, was a call from God to be ready to help someone.

“When I heard about the fire the next day, I knew that was it, so I drove down to see how I could help,” York said.

She offered Mary McCoy her rental home in Corrales until a new tenant moves in and is helping her navigate the process of putting her life back together.

But, like most of the neighbors, York is quick to deflect praise. Paramedics, for example, returned to the scene even after Mary McCoy had initially waived off medical assistance, York said.

“They knew Mary needed help, even if she didn’t,” she said.

York also credits critical care Dr. Eleana Zamora, who not only treated Al McCoy at the University of New Mexico Sandoval Regional Medical Center in Rio Rancho, but also made a house call to see Mary McCoy, update her on her husband’s condition and provide her with a wig, since all of Mary’s wigs burned in the fire.

“I call her Dr. Angel,” York said.

Two other angels are Amy Fletcher and Kailee Hicks, both Rio Rancho women who didn’t know each other, the McCoys or York, but are now working together to help the couple, who have no family nearby.

“I heard about the fire and knew I needed to help, so I did a lot of praying and asked to be led to the right people,” Hicks said.

Hicks set up an online donation site for specific immediate needs for Mary McCoy, such as clothing, coffee and gift certificates, and a Venmo account for monetary donations.

Fletcher helped spread the word online via social media and assisted York in helping Mary McCoy obtain replacement identification and a driver’s license.

Nico Ortiz, owner of Turtle Mountain Brewing, offered his two locations in Rio Rancho as donation drop-off sites.

Even before the Red Cross stepped in Monday, nearly all the item requests were filled and at least $600 raised, Hicks said.

“It’s been so amazing to see how much kindness and caring is out there,” Hicks said. “People just really want to help. They just need to know how.”

Neighbors also checked on each other during and after the fire.

“I didn’t know many neighbors’ names before this, but have learned a lot,” said Bock, who returned from North Carolina on Saturday evening. “We all have.”

Bock said she loves her neighborhood because of its breathtaking view of the Sandia Mountains.

What’s even more beautiful now to her are the neighbors.

UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Reach Joline at 730-2793, jkrueger@abqjournal.com.

Cash donations: Venmo @Kailee-Hicks
Questions:Text Kailee Hicks (208) 640-3024.

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