Officials explain faulty evacuation order in wake of bosque fire - Albuquerque Journal

Officials explain faulty evacuation order in wake of bosque fire

An Albuquerque police hovercraft is seen stationed on the west bank of the Rio Grande river as fire crews battle a 34-acre bosque fire Wednesday afternoon south of the Montaño bridge near Coors. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque fire officials around 8:15 p.m. Wednesday said crews had gotten a handle on a 34-acre bosque fire burning on both sides of the Rio Grande south of the Montaño bridge.

Less than an hour later, however, the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office posted a message on Twitter that hundreds of residents in the area “need to evacuate their homes immediately.”

Panic ensued as an emergency notification was sent to some residents’ cellphones and television news outlets sent alerts to subscribers.

On Thursday, officials said the BCSO tweet was the result of a “miscommunication” and that no homes were ever in danger as the fire was well on its way to containment.

But locals on Twitter said the order put them on high-alert, with some growing frantic and hosing down homes, waking up children and fleeing with pets and belongings.

Bernalillo County Fire Deputy Chief Brian Rose said it stemmed from a “misinterpretation” with the dispatch center between evacuating the Rio Grande river area itself and neighborhoods west of Rio Grande Boulevard.

“So kind of the fog of war, things were happening very, very quickly, the fire was moving quickly,” Rose said. “All those components sometimes collide. It created a little bit of a mess.”

Some experiences were more trying than others.

One Twitter user wrote “the temporary evacuation wasn’t fun folks, but it kinda freaked out my family and the cat pooped in her cage and got all covered in yucky gross poop!”

By midnight, firefighters had contained the large wind-driven fire and Thursday morning the city ordered the area to remain closed as crews mop up hotspots and render the area safe.

Albuquerque Fire Rescue Chief Gene Gallegos said no structures were damaged, or ever in danger, and no injuries were reported in the fire, which jumped from the west side to the east side of the Rio Grande.

Gallegos said the cause of the fire is under investigation and the area is still unsafe as it’s full of hazards such has burned-out cottonwoods.

“Again, these trees are still burning,” he said. “It is still very dangerous in there, we don’t want anybody else walking around and getting hurt.”

Mayor Tim Keller asked residents to stay out of the affected stretch of the bosque as crews finish their work – a closure that would likely last through the Memorial Day weekend.

Officials said the closed area is between Montaño and Campbell roads on the east side and between Montaño to Andalucia Park on the west side.

“There are still … embers or small fires that we’re monitoring. So it is by no means finished or done,” Keller said. “Know that first and foremost, we are all over this fire as a community. And so we’ve got the resources we need, and they’re out there in the bosque.”

Gallegos encouraged people to use other parts of the bosque as it puts “more eyes” on the area to report any signs of smoke or fire before it can get out of control. He said there are no plans to close the entire bosque area at this time.

On Wednesday, it was Albuquerque police officers on an airboat who first spotted smoke around 5:45 p.m. on the west side of the river. Gallegos said more than 100 firefighters came in from all over the state to help battle the blaze, which jumped to the east side of the river by way of gusty winds.

He said AFR handled the west side of the fire as Bernalillo County Fire Department dealt with the smaller east side fire, leading to an hourslong fight to contain it.

“I’m grateful for all the firefighters work that it didn’t turn into 100-acre fire or bigger or take any type of structures,” Gallegos said.

The evacuation order was sent out by BCSO around 8:50 p.m. ordering all residents between Montaño and Candelaria, west of Rio Grande Boulevard, to evacuate. The order was retweeted by Bernalillo County’s official account but, minutes later, BCSO sent another tweet lifting the order.

“With technology, there’s always going to be glitches – and then it’s also human communication,” Gallegos said of the incident, adding that he understood how it could be a “scary situation” for locals as the state faces its worst fire season in years.

“Obviously with everything that’s going on in the state, this is a very sensitive topic,” he said, “especially when it’s so close to home.”

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