FORT GARLAND — The gymnasium at the Blanca-Fort Garland Community Center was filled Friday afternoon with evacuated residents waiting to hear the latest information on the Spring Fire. Waiting to see if their home was one of the ones spared, or one of the ones lost. Waiting to see when they could go see the damage for themselves.
But for them, and for the many volunteers and emergency staff, the wait will continue.
The briefing was held, in part, by the Rocky Mountain Area Incident Management Team. The specialized group, comprised of fire and emergency professionals, arrived Thursday night and officially took control of the coordination of the many agencies working on the fire and its impact.
“What we’re doing, is we’re trying to get ahead of the fire,” explained Paul Cerda, Operation Section Chief for the team. He said due to the fire activity and the weather, the team has been more in a responsive mode.
“Having a team here providing oversight and additional resources, we have now started moving to be more proactive on the front end, as the fire is starting to approach to the north and to the east towards La Veta.”
Currently working on the fire are four heavy air tankers, four heavy helicopters, and more than 200 firefighters. Another 200 firefighters are en route to the area from all over the country to help as well. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
But at this point in time, the effort is being made to protect lives of both the firefighting teams as well as the residents that decided to stay put. All members of the group addressing the crowd stated that no one is allowed back in yet, not even law enforcement, and they have not yet begun compiling addresses of the properties that were damaged or spared, although the team has acknowledged that some homes have been lost.
“We are working to get that information,” said Rick Rodrigues, the undersheriff of Costilla County. “If you please bear with us, and have patience, we will start providing that. Hopefully soon.”
He said that there are 18 law enforcement members that are currently patrolling the perimeter of the fire.
Shane Greer, the incident commander for the Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team, urged the crowd to be patient.
“Some homes have been lost, we understand that,” he said. “Currently, it’s not safe to allow you to go in. But I can assure you that we’re working as hard and fast as we can. But I’ll be perfectly honest, I have no idea how long you’ll be evacuated.”
Bill Werner, the disaster program manager of the American Red Cross, stressed to those in attendance that the shelter has plenty of food and beds for those who need it.
“We are feeding firefighters in addition to a traveling canteen that is helping feed the firefighters as well,” he said. “The shelter guests here have plenty to eat.”
He went on to state that there are also plenty of cots available.
“There’s rumors out there that we’re not providing shelter, that we’ve been turning people away. We have lots of room, lots of cots. We’ve been going into the parking lot to encourage people to sleep inside, as we have plenty of space here for them. No one has been turned away.”
Chris Rodrigues with Costilla County Emergency Management also wanted to let people know that updates will be sent out through the SLV Emergency twitter, and not the Costilla OEM twitter. The postings are also going to SLVemergency.org.
“We are trying to put out as much verified information as we can,” he said.
He urged everyone who has been displaced to register for a “rapid tag,” which is a way that homeowners can pre-verify they live in the evacuation zone and be allowed admittance when it is safe to go back. He also said there were also behavioral health personnel available to anyone needed someone to talk to.
Monetary donations for the Red Cross are currently being accepted online, and will be distributed locally. For more information on the fire, call 719-695-9573.
Caption: Residents of Forbes Park look over an updated map provided by the Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team showing the latest fire perimeter./Photo by Dawn Kreb