Great Basin Team #1 Incident Manager Rich Harvey, far left, chats with Los Alamos Fire Chief Troy Hughes, Los Alamos County Council Chair Randall Ryti and Trainee Incident Manager Isaac Powning at Monday evening’s community briefing for the Cerro Pelado Fire. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
Part of a giant poster signed by Los Alamos Public Schools students in gratitude to firefighters on the Cerro Grande Fire. The poster was being taken to the Tuesday morning briefing for those working the fire. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
Great Basin Team #1 Incident Manager Rich Harvey sports a crown made for him by Los Alamos Public Schools as Los Alamos Fire Chief Troy Hughes and LAPS Asst. Supt, Jennifer Guy look on. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
While Cerro Pelado Fire officials were updating the public on the fire Monday evening at an in-person/virtual meeting at Griffith Gym in Los Alamos, the County’s CodeRed system announced that the County is stepping down from the “set” phase of Ready, Set, Go to the “ready” phase effective this morning, Tuesday, May 17 because fire conditions have improved.
“Stay alert and pay attention to the news in case circumstances change. Stage 3 Fire Restrictions remain in place for Los Alamos County. Thank you for your attention and diligence the past three weeks; we really appreciate it,” the CodeRed message said.
Los Alamos National Laboratory employees were notified simultaneously that LANL employees who have been on maximum telework were to return on-site Tuesday.
Great Basin Team #1 Incident Manager Rich Harvey note that what started with five days of red flag weather after the team’s arrival has gotten a little better for them.
“But I found out one thing; the wind blows every day in New Mexico. It seems like every day it’s 20-25 mph or more and it’s really been a challenge for us,” he said.
Harvey said reflecting on the two weeks his team has been at the fire, he remembered two things the team said the first day they were in the community; that they had made a commitment to the community to fight the fire aggressively and to take care of natural resources while putting the safety of the public and firefighters first.
“We also made a commitment to listen,” he said, adding that the team held several listening sessions with a lot of folks and that it’s sometimes difficult to merge everybody’s desire as to what the team should or shouldn’t be doing.
“But at the end of the day, I think the product that we’re turning over to the Rocky Mountain Type 2 Black Team is a pretty good product,” Harvey said.
He said the team had promised to build relationships.
“This is our fourth meeting in Los Alamos; we met on social media and Facebook trying to listen to people and talk to them. One of the first things we did was hold a listening session on Zoom with six pueblos sharing their concerns. I have since met with all six pueblo governors to try and make sure we understand their concerns,” Harvey said. “We meet constantly with the seven agencies that delegated their authority on this fire, from the National Park Service to Santa Fe National Forest to LANL to New Mexico State Forestry Division – we were meeting with these people because they have ownership in how we fight this fire. I think we fought this fire pretty good, but I’ll remind you that 62 percent contained is not 100 percent contained.”
He reminded the community that the fire is not really a done deal because New Mexico right now is just coming into traditional fire season.
“We will not lose focus on what we have out there. We’ll always keep an eye on the fire and we’ll make sure the Black Team knows who you guys are and they’ll know what our strengths and weaknesses with this fire so that there’s no loss of traction, that we continue to make progress and we continue to make sure we make right decisions for the land and the fire itself,” Harvey said.
He noted that people are hearing that the fire is 62 percent contained and they are not seeing smoke and they want to get back to doing what they want to do.
“We’re kind of, sort of closer every day. We want to get people back in their homes and we’re working on that. We want to get kids back in school and I heard Los Alamos School kids started today. We want to get roads open. We want to get people back into businesses. We want to get the motels up here filled up with people to visit their public lands, their national parks,” Harvey said. “As we try to return to normal, I’m going to commit my team and the Black Team to continue to stay focused on the fire. We’ll have the fire but we’ll also try to focus on the return to normal.”
He concluded that it had been a pleasure to serve and thanked the community for its patience and support on behalf of the team which will transition out by Thursday.
Later in the meeting, Harvey was asked when State Route 4 would reopen. He noted that one of the reasons the road has been closed is because of the number of firefighters and the amount heavy equipment such as masticators working along the road.
“Masticators are big machines, and when they chew up a tree, a log, a piece of brush, they throw it all over the place. You do not want to be driving by when we’re doing that kind of stuff. We have that going on all up and down the road. We also have water trucks. They go in, they fight the fire they come out and they go down to get more water,” he said. “In my estimation, about Thursday, we should be done enough with our operations that we can accommodate all of you all on that road. There some partners that we haven’t met with to make sure we’re all squared away.”
He noted that the team liaison officers have been working with New Mexico State Police and others who have a vested interest in the route.
“Our interest in it as an incident management team fighting the Cerro Pelado Fire is probably going to be over by Thursday, maybe Friday, so we will keep them informed on that process and as soon as we can get you all back up there, that’s what we’re going to do. Sometime around Thursday would be my best guess,” Harvey said.
In response to a question about possible flooding when monsoon season arrives, Harvey described how A Burn Area Emergency Rehabilitation (BAER) team is being established that will collect data on where the areas of the highest severity burns are and start prioritizing projects that will be put into place between now and the monsoons in order to do some mitigation.
“Unlike the Las Conchas Fire, which maybe had a week or two from when the fire was over before the monsoons got there, we do have some time to start armoring some of the places the BAER Team might identify as weak spots. I’m not sure how much time there is, but there’s certainly more time than Las Conchas had,” Harvey said.
He said there’s a lot less high intensity fire in the landscape right now compared to Las Conchas so it’s not a perfect situation.
“There’s a big burn scar that’s about to get wet and try to run downhill. I think there’s some smart people on those BAER teams and they’ll be picking the areas that are of the most value to most people to protect and they’ll do what they can do. They should be getting some work done on the ground pretty soon,” Harvey said.
As the team’s Lead PIO Mary Cernicek stated during the meeting, “You guys picked a good meeting to come to – it’s full of good news”.
Thank you notes on a poster made by LAPS students to the show their appreciation for firefighters working on the Cerro Pelado Fire. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
Another portion of the poster made by LAPS students for firefighters. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
A striking poster of gratitude made by LAPS students for Great Basin Team #1 and firefighters on the Cerro Pelado Fire. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com