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U.S. Forest Service says Luna has been “invaluable”

The Luna Community College campus in Las Vegas has been the main Incident Command Post for the U.S. Forest Service since April 10, right after wildfires started in northeastern New Mexico. During this disaster, over 1,000 Forest Service personnel, firefighters, law enforcement officers and Emergency Medical personnel worked out of the Luna campus on a daily basis.

Luna provides office space, internet service, briefing areas, space for a national caterer, camping space, and a place for day sleeping trailers. For other events, emergency responders have to work and live out of tents and spend time and energy hiking back and forth between incident briefings and their vehicles and equipment. At Luna, overnight, indoor camping and vehicle parking was made available near the briefing sites so everyone could more easily, quickly collect assignments, and get back to the work of “fighting the monster fire.”

A DC-10 “heavy” air tanker drops fire retardant on a ridge just west of Luna, recently. The retardant was used to create a backup fire containment line to protect the west side of Las Vegas. Luna’s main campus in Las Vegas has been the main Incident Command Post for the U.S. Forest Service since the start of wildfires. (Courtesy photo, U.S, Forest Service)

In addition, Luna provides the nursing auditorium when the Forest Service meets with big groups. The Learning Resource Center Auditorium is used as the communication hub between the forest service and mutual cooperators for a daily briefing. It is also utilized for status updates for the public. Moreover, Luna facilities are utilized for city and county officials to meet with the Governor and her staff as well as with state officials and the “Setting up essentially a small city within the matter of days is always a challenge. Having an excellent facility and support from Luna has been invaluable to the incident management teams in command of the Hermits Peak and Calf Canyon Fire,” says Andy Gray, public information officer for the Southwest Incident Management Team.

Luna’s cafeteria was initially used as sleeping quarters for firefighters working through the night. Luna also shared parking space and outside areas with fire personnel.

“Just having a place for daytime sleeping that is cool and dark is so important for fighters who work the night shift on the fire line,” says Andy Gray. “The parking capacity for fire engines and other fire equipment was very essential to us.”

Currently, Luna is serving as a distribution center for the San Miguel County Emergency Management Division holding supplies such as water, hygiene essentials and pet food.

“We are very happy that we are able to assist the U.S. Forest Service and our community partners,” said Luna President Dr. Edward Martinez. “A big part of our mission at Luna is for the college to be available to help our communities when they need our services. Before Luna operations went remotely, Luna employees and students were happy to share the facilities with the U.S. Forest Service.”

As of Wednesday May 18, the wildfires had increased 301,971 acres.

U.S. Forrest Personnel stand outside Luna’s old humanities building recently waiting for directions. The U.S. Forest Service has utilized Luna’s campus since April 10. (Courtesy photo, U.S, Forest Service)

“When a fire situation happens, it’s an emergency situation,” says Andy Lyon, also a public information officer for the Southwest Incident Management Team. “Our job is to bring order to the chaos. Part of our job is to make sure workers have a place to eat, a place to sleep and that they are paid when they go home. We also want to express our appreciation to appreciation to those who live around the college and have to put up with our noise. We try to be good neighbors. We are trying to bring things somewhat back to normal. We appreciate the support of the community and the college helping us get through this.”

Lyon said that although they are still fighting wildland fires, it is important that our communities be ready for future fires.

“A simple explanation, given the conditions in New Mexico right now, we want everyone to be ready for a fire,” says Lyon. “It might not be this monstrous fire; it could be a fire that starts with a bottle rocket on the Fourth of July.”

Lyon said that the enemy right now are harsh winds, the fact that everything is dry and the lack of a winter snowfall.

“When it rains a sufficient amount that soaks the ground, that is when the fire will be put out completely,” says Lyon.

Lyon encourages everyone to be aware of the ready, set and go status.

“Ready means be thinking about leaving your home,” says Lyon. “Start thinking what you will take with you when you leave your home. Set means have everything packed together sitting in your car and go means it’s time to leave.”

Lyon said that there are fire personnel from about a dozen states including some as far away as Alaska and Pennsylvania and all of them are dedicated and committed to their work.

“We work just as hard to save a mobile home as we do to save a one-million-dollar home,” says Lyon