NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Eight long weeks after the Hermit’s Peak Calf Canyon fire started, thousands of New Mexicans are still out of their homes. People who are still displaced from the wildfires have one question on their minds: When will it be safe to go home? Fire officials say lifting evacuations is a complicated process.
After being displaced from the Hermit’s Peak Calf Canyon fire for weeks, Tina Heffner returned home to Mora. But there are still many people who are being told to stay away. “Every single person around here that I know right now is going through probably one of the worst times of their lives,” Heffner said.
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Fire officials explain that letting people go back home too soon comes with risks. Alex Mcbath is the Operations Section Chief for California Team Five. “We have a lot of structure fires that happen after repopulation because electricity comes on. And then all of a sudden stuff is live in their house and the house catches on fire,” Mcbath said.
People who are back home say there’s a level of anxiety because of unpredictable weather patterns. “I believe everyone around in this area has those concerns right now about the fire may be starting back up. Because I mean, when you’re driving up into the valley, you can see spots of smoke up in the mountains like right behind our homes and right behind the mountains, where we live,” Heffner said.
Fire conditions aren’t always what they seem on the surface. The San Miguel County sheriff warns people to stay alert. “I know some of the people are calling today and saying well they’re not seeing any smoke. Well that could possibly be because the winds are so strong that it is laying the column over so you might not be able to see that smoke if it is there,” explains Sheriff Chris Lopez.
The sheriff’s office is working closely with fire operation chiefs to evaluate when it’s safe to let people return home. “It takes a big effort from everybody to get everything in place. So when folks go back into their houses, it’s safe for them to go back in there. So it typically takes a little bit longer to get folks back in than to get them out,” says Mcbath.
Heffner has advice for those who are missing home. “Even though it’s hard to stay away, I recommend that you do. Because for one, you know, you’re not only endangering your own life, but also the firefighters’ lives that are out there trying to protect you, if something happens to you when you come back.”
Residents in San Miguel, Mora, Taos, Colfax, and Santa Fe counties should pay attention to evacuation orders in their area as fire officials say they could change at a moment’s notice.