Kevin Stillman, whose house on Cochiti Mesa burned along with more than sixty others in the Las Conchas fire, was house sitting for neighbors when the fire erupted.
By the time he had grabbed the neighbors’ dog, some dog food, their computer, a back-up hard drive and a photograph, it was raining ash.
Stillman, who works on the trail crew at Bandelier National Monument, didn’t have time to load the horses.
“Their horses didn’t make it,” he says. “They found them dead.”
But it isn’t the domesticated animals that Stillman is most concerned about, or even the people who lost their houses to the fire. The endangered species such as the Mexican spotted owl are the ones who can’t start from scratch using insurance money. “Houses can be rebuilt,” he says.
Stillman is going to rebuild his own destroyed home, and in the meantime he’s concerned about the erosion from monsoon rains and off-road vehicles (ORVs) that might use the burned area for recreation.
To prevent human-caused erosion, the conservation organization WildEarth Guardians is asking Santa Fe National Forest Supervisor Maria Garcia to ban all motorized vehicles in the burned area (see the Santa Fe New Mexican's recent story on the subject).
According to Stillman, the Las Conchas fire was caused by a hundred years of poor Forest Service practices, such as managing the forest primarily for mining and grazing purposes. The Ponderosa forest on Cochiti Mesa was overgrown and “there was no doubt it was going to burn down.”
Stillman, who has lived on Cochiti Mesa since he was five, said that people have been very generous in the wake of the fire. “People are coming out of the woodwork and offering stuff,” he says.
Stillman takes a very practical and stoic view of the loss of his house. “It could be worse,” he says. “It’s just a house, it’s just stuff. Life goes on.”