Councilor James Robinson: Remembering Cerro Grande

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Los Alamos County Councilor

Twenty years ago, my mother and I were shopping at Target in Santa Fe. Schools had been cancelled two days before, and as a fifth grader, I needed out of the house (probably more that my mom needed me out of the house ha). Knowing me, I was hoping to get a fresh pack of Pokemon cards. 

I can still remember that day, as I was wondering the electronic section, when we all suddenly looked at the TVs mounted in the area announcing that Los Alamos was being evacuated.  My mom immediately called my dad to tell him the news. Like many others, we dropped what we were planning to buy and rushed to our cars. I can still remember orange/red haze that was showering Santa Fe. 

Later that day, my parents decided that my mom would take my sister and I down to Tucumcari to stay with my grandparents. The whole way down, I remember just watching the plume grow larger and darker. 

As we got to my grandparents, the news was already on, and the adults would be glued to it for the next couple days. They would do their best to keep me distracted, but would soon be back to the TV.

What seemed like weeks went by, and soon the town was back open and school was back in session. I remember sitting and listening to my teachers telling us about expressing our feelings, all the while wondering which one of my classmates had lost their house in the fire. 

The town would begin to clean up and rebuild, but Cerro Grande has never faded from our memories. Eleven years later, another fire would threaten our community, but we were prepared this time. 

As I look back on the last twenty years, the list of events that has transpired floors me. A little over a year after Cerro Grande, the nation would be rocked by September 11th, followed by the War on Terror and the War in Iraq, the Great Recession, the Las Conchas fire, COVID-19 and so many others. 

In many ways, Cerro Grande prepared me for the events that were to come next. Not by becoming apathetic to disaster, but recognizing that out of the darkest of moments, we come together to rebuild. As the flames tore across our community, our neighbors opened their doors and resources to help us through our trial. 

As we begin to recover from the pandemic, let us remember that full recovery takes time and requires all of us to work together. As we look to reopen, reach out to friends and neighbors to check on them, say thank you to a nurse or first responder, and shop local. Finally, if you have the ability to, please give. 

We are all in this together, and together we will recover.