The Desolation of Smaug

While dragons are known for their fondness for gold and jewels, they are also known for the destruction they leave in their wake. My dragon was no exception.

This photo is from a news source taken shortly after I reported the fire. (One of the fire crew later told me he was heading north to Albuquerque when he was notified and that he could see the fire in his rear view mirror from about 30 miles away.)

Within a very short time after I called 911, the first crews started responding. All told, in addition to the local volunteer fire department (I can’t emphasize enough how wonderful these people are — they train on their own time, take time off from jobs to respond to fires and pay for almost all, if not all, of their personal equipment out of their own pocket. Please support your local fire crews!!!) there were boots on the ground from both federal and state agencies.

From another news agency:

On the south east side of my property (you can see my neighbor’s house after their fence burned)

The acreage on my property that fronted the road was heavily treed with primarily tamarisk (salt cedar) and a few other tree species. Over the years I had been having it thinned out but even after several years of fairly steady cutting, it was still very thick with trees. I did have grasses and other vegetation that had gotten started where the trees had been thinned out which, because of the dry conditions, just served as tinder to the fire.

Despite the devastation, no one was injured and while my neighbor to the north lost a couple of outbuildings and the one to the south lost a privacy fence, no one lost a house. All of my animals survived.

After the fire crews left on Friday, my concern was not having a way to secure the property as the gate posts had burned and the gates could not be closed and locked. Since I live in a great community with lots of support, an acquaintance came through and located a couple of men to come out and rebuild the H-braces holding the gates. So on Saturday morning while my neighbor and I did some quick and dirty fence repairĀ  in a couple of places on the south side of the property, two great gentlemen came out and spent a miserable day in the sun, digging out the remnants of the buried railroad ties and dropping new ties in and otherwise doing all the hard work required in building H-braces. They were quick, efficient and did a wonderful job. My stress levels dropped enormously once I could secure the property again.

The photo I had put up a couple of days ago showed the burnt post from the other side of the gate. The H-braces on both sides were replaced/repaired and the gates rehung.

Since I ran two different vehicles off my property on Friday while the gates were not functional I decided that sadly it was probably time for me to post the property. So they even kindly hung my new fence sign.

Fix Standing Guard Duty

Again, I can’t express how appreciative I am that they came out on a Saturday (and holiday weekend to boot) to help me out. (Notice the surviving tree in the background – fire is a strange beast.) At some point in the next week I will do a final blog post on the fire and will include some tips for dealing with a fire. (After two fires in the immediate area in three years I think I can offer some useful advice so hopefully it will help someone in the future.)

Feeding the Dragon – Part Four

Thursday (05/23): Tomorrow the remaining fire crews hope to be finished and plan to depart. I cannot stress enough how amazing the fire crews have been.

I interrupted the lunch of one of the fire personnel and he very kindly escorted me around the burnt areas so that I could assess the damage myself. I know that the front gate posts and connecting fencing need to be repaired / replaced and that all of the braces need to be replaced but needed to know the extent of the other fence repairs needed. While the trees and vegetation are virtually gone, the damage to the wire fence and T-posts is not nearly as bad as I had feared. It appears that most will be salvageable. The biggest problem now is actually finding someone that can do a competent job of repair and/or rebuilding the fence (and whether my insurance will cover the cost.)

I am finishing the day more optimistic than I have been since Monday evening.

I will leave everyone with two final photos:

Fall 2007

This is what the entrance to the property looked like when I first bought the property and before I did any fencing.

May 23, 2019

This photo was taken this morning from approximately the same spot.

Feeding the Dragon – Part Three

Wednesday (05/22): The days have sort of run together. It is hard to keep to a normal work schedule with the frequent breaks to talk to various fire personnel.

The residual smoke has given me a wicked headache and I can’t imagine a job where breathing in smoke is normal. Actually I can’t imagine a job fighting fires. I never considered myself particularly afraid of fire until the Escondida fire of 2016, but the sight of those flames on Monday really scared me. I have always respected the job firefighters did but my respect jumped several levels during the 2016 fire. Happily (if that is a suitable word) the fire crews this week did not disappoint. The initial responders were my local volunteer fire department and I am, again, very thankful for their dedication to the community. Fire crews from BLM and the Forestry Department also responded and everyone worked together to do a wonderful job of containment. Three days later I still have crews on the ground ensuring that the hot spots don’t flare up again in our high winds.

The fire investigators have come and gone and a report on the fire’s cause will be forthcoming in the next few weeks. I’ve been told crews will be on the property through Friday finishing up. The few trees that didn’t fall but which are obviously dead are being cut down and ash piles are being raked.

Bulldozers are still at work (this is where one of the fire breaks was bulldozed) and the fire crews will be on the ground through Friday.

The gates to the driveway are intact but unable to be used at this point. The railroad tie used as a gate post on the north gate burned and I’m not sure how the gate is still standing. (Oddly, on the south gate, the railroad tie holding the gate did not burn but the corresponding tie in the brace, probably 18 inches apart, also burned to the ground.)

And yet, the signs on the gate appear untouched.

You may notice that while some of the baling twine is still intact, other pieces melted and small bits are stuck to the metal.

Feeding the Dragon – Part Two

The fire crew called me after I left the property about bulldozing a fire break. I gave permission for them to do whatever they felt necessary and reiterated the statement that I had made when I left — I took everything necessary from the house (the dogs, my laptop and my box of paperwork) and there was nothing in the house that was worth anyone getting hurt or killed. My neighbor informed me later Monday night that the house was still standing and since I didn’t hear anything further I figured that remained the status quo. Tuesday morning (05/21) I left the dogs at my friend’s and drove back. I don’t have words to describe the devastation at the east end of the property but once I got past the last bend in the driveway and saw the house, everything was back to normal (except for the brightly colored surveyor’s tape attached to the gate posts). The bulldozed areas of the north central pasture weren’t visible unless you knew to look and the house, animal pens, etc. were all unscathed.

The power was still off so I couldn’t water livestock, but I fed and milked (I had left before milking Monday night so was expecting the two does to be full – I got a fraction of Nutmeg’s usual production and Spice, my best milker, gave me so little it wasn’t worth weighing.) After checking on things, I spoke with the electric co-op about the status of the power being restored and spoke with some of the fire crew. I then headed back to my friend’s to try and get some paying work done. By 1:30 pm the power had been restored and I packed up my laptop and the dogs and came home.

I saw many more fire crew as I drove down towards the house and stopped to speak to one who was taking extraordinary care to preserve the fence as he tried to cut out the still burning railroad tie that was part of the brace for the pasture gate.

Still burning

With the railroad tie removed. I am assuming the surveyor’s tape is to increase visibility for the fire crew so they can see the posts or other possible impediments

Fire is an odd beast – it is hard to understand why, in the midst of destruction, there are still some trees unburned or areas of ground vegetation still green.

Feeding the Dragon

Monday afternoon (May 20th) the power went out. I waited about half an hour and when the power wasn’t restored I called to report an outage. A few minutes later I went out to feed. When I started for the hydrant I realized that without power I had no water so I diverted towards the house. As I was walking back to the house I looked towards the pasture where the sheep were and saw flames high above the cottonwoods in that pasture. I immediately called 911 to report the fire, telling the dispatcher that they would have to cut the chain on the gate as I couldn’t get down to unlock itĀ  and then started trying to contact neighbors as I walked down the drive to see exactly where the fire was.

A neighbor jumped the easement fence and came over with a shovel to beat out the fire that had started in the grass in the north pasture closest to the house. I had to first chase the sheep and lambs out of the pasture before I could help with putting out the grass fire.

Fire from the southeast pasture approaching the middle pasture

Fire in southeast pasture

About this time the first volunteer fire fighters arrived. As soon as the fire burned all the available vegetation along the drive up by the gate, and I was able to leave, I loaded the dogs into the car and went to stay with a friend in town. The sheep were still loose on the western part of the property and I turned out all the goats as well so they weren’t trapped in pens.

All of the railroad tie braces burned – all the pasture and perimeter fences in the fire zone need to be repaired and/or replaced

Heading out. Smoke made visibility very poor.

The above and below photos were taken less than two hours from when I first noticed flames. The areas shown had been wooded.

One more photo from Monday night – next post will have photos from the next day.

Letter to the Editor

An slightly abbreviated version of the below letter was sent to the El Defensor Chieftan, the local newspaper.

During the almost nine years I have lived in Socorro County I have found most of the people I have met and with whom I have done business and become friends, to be honest and helpful. Quite frankly, over these past years I have taken for granted that my neighbors, friends, and other members of the community are genuinely nice people.

However, the events of June 10th were a stark reminder of how lucky I am to live in a community where one can rely upon total strangers for help and assistance. As a resident of Escondida, I wanted to express my appreciation for all of the individuals who responded so promptly to the Escondida fire. The work and effort by the paid fire fighters to control the fire and protect property is greatly appreciated. However, the level of professionalism exhibited by the first responders, who were not paid fire fighters but who left their paying jobs to respond to the fire, needs to be recognized, not only by those of us who live in Escondida, but by others in Socorro County who may not realize how lucky they are to know and live among individuals who care so deeply about their community and people they may never have met.

I count moving to Socorro County one of the best decisions I have ever made and am very thankful for all of the friends I have made while living here. I am even more thankful that there are individuals I have never met who are willing to put themselves in harm’s way to ensure my safety. I would like to express my personal thanks to everyone who responded to the Escondida fire and also thank everyone who has stepped up to help out a neighbor or a friend when a hand was needed.

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Bosque Fire

Google earth map of my location. In the upper right is my house – the dark roof next to the circular drive. My barn is to the left with a gray (almost looks blue) roof. What is labeled 4th Street is really an easement along the south property line which my neighbors use to access their property. If you follow the easement there is a quonset hut at the end. This was converted into a house. Just west is the roof of my neighbor’s sheep pens. At the bottom left is a large rectangular building and just below that is a house. This is the property where the fire started.

IMG_1096 (2)

The next two photographs were taken off the website of an Albuquerque news station. The first is a picture of my neighbor’s property to give you an idea of how close the fire came to my property.

Structure_fire_spreads_to_bosque_in_Socorro_County-syndImport-113235

And this shows the property where the fire began. FIRE1 It isn’t rotated the same way as Google Earth but you can see what is left of the workshop and house.

Inexplicably, when the fire jumped the fire break, it completely missed my property, and amazingly, when the wind shifted and the fire blew back, it again missed my property. As events unfolded, I did not need to evacuate my livestock. Power was restored within 24 hours and other than the smell of smoke, one could not tell there had been a fire by looking at my property. However, with the information available at the time, I decided leaving when I did was preferable to getting told I had to evacuate at 2 am and having to load animals into the trailer, in the dark, by myself.

Flood Fire Famine and Pestilence

In September 2013 flash floods flooded my property (see this post). Prior to that was the winter where the temperatures dropped to 14 below zero and all the pipes in the pump house froze and broke, leaving me without water from the house well as well as without water from the irrigation well used to water livestock. We have had several years of drought that impacted the farmers and made hay both difficult to find as well as expensive to purchase. I’ve lost countless chickens to coyotes and other predators as well as goats to coyotes and even a mountain lion once. With luck, the fire this year covers the last of the disasters.

Friday afternoon an explosion in a workshop to the southwest of my property caused a fire. Within ten minutes, the fire had spread to my immediate neighbor to the west and within thirty had burned a power pole to the ground cutting off power. No power translated into no water as the well pumps became inoperable.

View from my deck about ten minutes after the explosion.

View from my deck about ten minutes after the explosion.

This community is blessed with wonderful, dedicated volunteer firefighters who immediately responded. However, with limited access to water the priority became trying to prevent homes from burning and barns and other outbuildings were left to burn.

I had headed to my neighbor’s to offer whatever help I could provide when I was first called about the fire.

View from my south fence line - easement heads into my neighbor's property

View from my south fence line – easement heads into my neighbor’s property

(The photographs don’t really show how terrifying the fire looked.)

The neighbor was heading home but still some distance away so I called someone to help with my neighbor’s livestock. That friend swung by my place and picked up my trailer to bring to the neighbors. We were still trying to load livestock when the neighbor got home and made the decision to leave the animals. We took the trailer back to my place and swapped out trucks, hooking the trailer to my truck.

I had bought the stock trailer about four years ago, just because I was concerned about the possibility of fire. However, the SUV I had at the time would only tow the trailer empty – not real useful – and it took me another year or so to find an old Ford F250 which I could afford. The truck is a manual which wouldn’t be an issue except it has a very stiff clutch, making it hard to start and to get out of first gear. I don’t like driving the truck and can usually find all sorts of excuses not to use it. Fortuitously I had tried to start the truck a few weeks ago as I was running out of hay and needed to go pick up a few bales to tide me over until my hay supplier had hay, and discovered that the battery was stone dead. My mechanic (also a wonderful guy) swung by my place one day to take out the battery and bring back a new one. We had then disconnected the battery to ensure it didn’t drain itself again. The timing couldn’t have been better.

Although an evacuation was never ordered, without power and water, and with the increasing risk of fire on my property when the fire jumped the fire break crews put in at my neighbor’s, I decided to trailer as many of my animals that I could. Several friends had already phoned or texted offering any assistance they could provide. One, with a wonderful horse property on the outskirts of town, offered her facilities (and guest room). Another friend, without being asked, texted that he was hitching up a trailer and heading my way. He offered space at his place, but his fencing was less suited to my smaller livestock.

We loaded my trailer and started to load his, but it was getting late and I really wanted to be off the property before dark. I made the decision to leave the sheep, the pigs in the pasture and the chickens. I threw a few bales of hay in the truck bed and loaded the four dogs in the cab. I headed out, followed by my friend with his truck and trailer. By the time we got out my gates it was dark and by the time we got close to the bridge across the Rio Grande the smoke was so thick the only way to know where the road was, was by the lights of the emergency vehicles along the sides and the glowing orange embers in the tree tops which lined the road. I was too busy trying not to stall out the truck as I downshifted to get around emergency vehicles or was forced to stop for one to worry about photographs, but this one was taken by my friend behind me. IMAG0333

Another friend, driving home from Albuquerque, snapped these photos . .. the first is around Belen which is about 45 miles north. 20160610_190546 And this was from the freeway approaching Socorro. 20160610_191137

Photos of the area after the fire to follow. . . .