People flee their homes as massive fire approaches in northern New Mexico

Las Vegas, NM, prepares for a possible evacuation as the governor issues more mandatory orders

By: - May 3, 2022 6:00 am

The Hermits Peak Fire-Calf Canyon Fire coming over a peak in Mora County on Saturday, April 30, 2022. (Photo courtesy Cliff Regensberg)

The people that stayed in Mora County for more than a week after being told to evacuate said they would leave when they could see flames from their backyard. 

Sunday night, the fire arrived.

“It happened so fast. All of a sudden, I run out and I see the flames have already come over and there’s a big huge fire line,” said Kristy Wolf. 

Wolf lives in Mora, directly off NM Highway 518. She stayed in the community with a group of residents to help deliver food and do welfare checks on their neighbors who couldn’t or wouldn’t leave despite the threat from the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon fire, one of the largest in state history, burning more than 120,000 acres.

When the crew did their breakfast distribution Sunday morning, Wolf said the conditions were, “beautiful. It was fine. All those mountains were free and clear. We delivered our food. We went all the way to the very end.”

The end being nearest the fire zone, up to Pendaries Village near Rociada, N.M. They delivered 60 meals to people and told them folks to leave, saying “When it comes time to save your life, you save your life.”

And that time quickly arrived.

“After we got back from our dinner run, I knew that the fire was coming my way,” she said. “I started taking cases of pictures that I had in the little red shed that I knew would burn, and I transferred them to a big container.”

She filled her container with photos from her walls, and important documents and clothes, while keeping an eye on the mountain several miles from her backyard. After several trips moving items from her home to her car, she saw the fire quickly move over the ridge and toward her house. 

“By this point the fire is right behind my house. And I’m running to my car thinking, ‘You know, you’re very foolish. You shouldn’t be here and this fire is right next to the highway and you’re not going to cross. You’re going to be trapped in here,’ was my thought. I ran out of there and drove out, and I was in panic mode.”

She stopped a few miles away in Cleveland, N.M. and started crying. She tried to contact her friend Clifford Regensberg who was with her on the food run and who fled his home Sunday night near Ledoux when the fire reached his backyard. 

Kristy Wolf and Clifford Regensberg deliver food to Caleb Hix on Tuesday, April 26. Hix arrived with a fire team out of Colorado. (Photo by Shaun Griswold / Source New Mexico)

Wolf retreated to a friend’s home in Chacon, N.M. several miles in the opposite direction of the fire. But it’s a temporary place to stay because wind conditions today remain high and erratic, so she said she will move on to reunite with her husband and daughter in Albuquerque. 

Monday morning, she heard from her brother, who said her home was spared, but burn scars surround the property. He also said the fire did cross the highway but was contained to small patches of burned grass.

She praised fire crews for forming a line around her home, and most importantly the nearby oil tanks at Pendleton Propane in Mora that caused concern due to a potential explosion that would erupt if the facility caught fire.

“We didn’t have any trees around us, so I think that’s why it didn’t burn. My brother said that at one point he thought that my house was going to burn but (fire crews) were able to save it.”

The fire is advancing on Las Vegas, N.M., where many evacuees found shelter last week. City officials are preparing for possible evacuations from Las Vegas, too, as high winds in the area persist.

The Behavioral Health Institute in Las Vegas began evacuating 197 patients Monday morning. 

According to the state:

  • Adult psychiatric patients are being evacuated to the State Veterans’ Home in Truth or Consequences, N.M.
  • Long-term care patients are being evacuated to Genesis HealthCare facilities in Albuquerque and Fort Bayard Medical Center in Santa Clara, N.M., near Silver City
  • Forensic male patients are being evacuated with a State Police escort to Santa Rosa, N.M.
  • Forensic female patients are being evacuated with a State Police escort to Santa Fe, N.M.
  • Kids at Care are being evacuated to Sequoyah Adolescent Treatment Center in Albuquerque

Inquiring about a loved one or family member from the Behavioral Health Institute? Call: 505-827-2613 or 505-827-9710.

The Glorieta Conference Center has also been set up to receive evacuees. Call  1-800-432-2080 for more.

An up-to-date map of evacuations can be found here.

Green areas are under mandatory evacuation orders from the state. Yellow indicates people should be getting “set” for a possible evacuation, and red means people should be getting “ready.”

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Shaun Griswold
Shaun Griswold

Shaun Griswold is a journalist in Albuquerque. He is a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna, and his ancestry also includes Jemez and Zuni on the maternal side of his family. He grew up in Albuquerque and Gallup. He brings a decade of print and broadcast news experience. Shaun reports on issues important to Native Americans in urban and tribal communities throughout the state, including education and child welfare.