When Tony and Janice Farrington decided to evacuate their home on the upper end of Aceves Road late at night June 15, the day after the Dog Head Fire got its start, they took some important legal papers, but left behind many things they wished they had taken with them – family letters, a nativity scene made by their son, an Easter bunny made by their daughter.
“We were the last ones off the mountain,” Janice Farrington said. “But we had been through this so many times before. We thought our home would still be here when we got back.”
The next day while staying with their daughter in Albuquerque, however, they watched in horror as television news helicopters captured the fire consuming their home.
“Our home was like the poster child for the Dog Head Fire,” she said. “They just kept showing it … on fire, burning up.”
The couple said they plan to rebuild. Tony Farrington’s father bought a large amount of property in the area in 1960, which was split among his children after he died in 1976.
“The land here means a lot to us,” Tony Farrington said after taking a disaster assessment team Tuesday to his home and the home of his sister, Janet Youngberg. He has another sister, Nancy Higgins, who has property in the complex, but not a permanent home. “There are so many memories to all of us.”
Tony Farrington said he now wished had taken some personal items when they evacuated.
“The things – you can always replace things,” he said. “We have a lot of personal stuff – the family treasures – that we’ll never get back.”
Cheryl Nigg also wishes she could have brought more personal items with her when she was evacuating her two mules, three cats and her dog from their home on Aceves Road. But as the Disaster Animal Response Team coordinator, Nigg was not only trying to get her animals to safety, she was also having to get the Torrance County Fairgrounds ready to take other evacuated animals.
While she and her animals were safe, lost to the fire was artwork and antiques that can’t be replaced. With limited communications at the fairgrounds, Nigg focused on carrying for the animals in her role as the DART coordinator for the East Mountain Community Emergency Response Team. Knowing she lived on Aceves Road, Torrance County Emergency Manager Javier Sanchez visited her at the shelter to bring her the bad news that she most likely lost her small wooden home to the fire. He had also come to ask her help in identifying structures in the area that had burned based on photographs brought in by firefighters. In one of those photos was the confirmation that her home had been consumed by the fire.
Nigg said she is not sure if she will rebuild. Part of the charm of living there was how green and lush it was, she said.
Janice Farrington said she can’t help but imagine how surreal the blackened landscape will look like next winter when the first snow falls.
Organizations such as the East Mountain CERT have tried to urge people to not become complacent about preparing for fire evacuation and preventing fire loss by creating defensible spaces around homes, Nigg said. As Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., described during his visit with Dog Head Fire officials recently, the East Mountains “dodged a big bullet” since many homes would have been in its path had winds and other weather conditions not calmed over the Father’s Day weekend. Nigg said she worries that people will become complacent again, thinking the Dog Head Fire will be the only one they need to worry about this fire season.
“There is still a lot of dry forest out there,” she said. “People think it won’t happen to them until it does happen to them and it’s too late.”