For nearly two centuries, several dozen families continued to live in the small village of Chacon, New Mexico, living a modest life in a narrow valley known for both harsh winters and frequent droughts.
But over generations of combat, perched at 8,500 feet above sea level, they have also maintained vigilance over one of the most enviable views of the southern Rockies – looking south through a short canyon to the stunning Sangre de Cristo Mountains, which stop the greenery. the largest Mora Valley, which is home to about 2,000 people. Today, however, this view is more like looking down into the barrel of a loaded pistol in the form of relentless winds, pushing both smoke and flames from the largest U.S. wildfire up the canyon.
What’s worse: the historical community literally has no way to call for help, as it is on the brink of destruction.
When I visited the valley on Tuesday, c Kalf Canyon and Hermit’s Peak Fire it has already burned over 145,000 acres and hundreds of structures. (As of Thursday morning, the total burned area had risen to more than 165,000 acres.) The burned area stretched from the edge of the Mora Valley all the way south to the larger city of Las Vegas, New Mexico, where thousands of homes were also threatened by flames. the wind.
All access to the neighboring Mora Valley has been blocked for days, as the community, also in the center of one of the country’s poorest counties, is under mandatory evacuation orders. It is has been reported that hundreds of residents initially chose to stay at home to monitor their properties, but as the fire doubled over the weekend, most are now thought to have fled to emergency shelters or stayed with family members elsewhere in the state.
New Mexico State Police imposed a blockade on the northern entrance to the Mora Valley on Tuesday morning. Anyone who makes the long drive down a mountain pass to reach this point will be forced to either turn or turn left on the seven-mile road that leads through the canyon to Chacon.
For residents who have not yet escaped the coming hell, understanding how close the danger is at any given moment has become more difficult this week.
“This is the second day without phones, without internet, without anything,” Cody Vazquez told the Chaconne fire department on Tuesday afternoon.
He and his father, Alfred, are members of the volunteer fire brigade. They greeted me, dressed in appropriate yellow fireproof shirts, just as they were about to board one of the department’s cherry-red fire trucks and head south to help protect property near the fire front.
They both told me that since the fires damaged the valley’s cell tower a few days ago, the community had been cut off at the end of a long journey.
“You have to drive to Sipapu to make a call,” Cody added.
Reaching Chapapu Ski Hut from Chacon includes a 45-minute drive up a mountain pass and through a winding canyon in one direction. Back in the blockade, locals stopped at a crossroads to ask government soldiers for fire updates before climbing up State Road 518 to the distant promise of connectivity.
“There are people in Chacon who have no external connection unless someone is driving there,” Roger Montoya told me when I visited him at his home in Velarde on Tuesday morning.
Montoya is the state representative for the sprawling House 40 neighborhood, which stretches from the Rio Grande north to the Colorado border and east to the Great Plains, including the entire Mora and Chacon valleys. He travels to Chacon, about 90 minutes from his home, to inform residents there.
It is my duty to keep coming in as much as I can and to help spread the word so that when Go goes, they can come out. [State Road] 518 safe. ”
He says most people have already left the area, which I discovered when I passed through it. Several public gathering places in Chacon – a small credit union, post office and church – were closed, locked and darkened. The electricity was interrupted at best. Some people could be seen watching cattle in the field, but otherwise the only action I came across was in the fire department.
You may receive FM radio signals from remote stations in Las Vegas and the town of Raton in the north. But as access to the area is almost closed, even regional media are limited to simply repeating official fire updates from law enforcement and the Santa Fe National Forest.
In this information void, rumors and rumors fill the vacuum. Social media reports suggest that some favorite companies were burned down to be canceled later, and evacuees were sent to seek refuge in the wrong places hours away.
“When you go on social media and start posting information that is not true … it just makes my job and the work of others harder to ensure safety,” Mora County Sheriff Padilla said in Update on interdepartmental fires on Wednesday.
Help from above
“Communication is one of the biggest shortcomings,” Montoya said. “Can we consider placing a Starlink satellite over every major rural settlement within 22 million acres of forest in New Mexico?” Only as a backup. Why do we fight when human lives and structures on this scale are in danger? [This is] the most serious fire event in the United States at the moment. I think we can do better. ”
SpaceX’s Starlink Internet service is available in New Mexico, but the price of the hardware is high, starting at $ 599.their ability to deploy the service in crises such as the war in Ukraine, where the service was activated and sets of receivers were sent to the country after the Russian invasion in late February.
SpaceX did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
For now, however, the inhabitants of Chacon and the Mora Valley are forced to rely on the same form of communication as their ancestors – word of mouth, spread by people who go around it door to door. On Tuesday, local law enforcement and officials such as Montoya carried the message.
When I returned from the Mora Valley on Tuesday night, I was able to go online for the first time in hours and found that the mandatory Go evacuation order had finally been given to Chacon as I drove back.
“I understand we’re all on edge,” Sheriff Padilla later said. “Once we manage to start bringing people back to their homes, we will start letting people back in and start rebuilding.”
For a moment I wondered which most of the residents had received the news of the new evacuation order from the beginning, or even knew it was time to leave.
To support people affected by forest fires, please visit All together New Mexico.