Women add party spirit at NW fire shelter

BY P.J. HELLER | White Rock, NM | May 10, 2000

Not everyone who was forced to flee their home from the Cerro Grande Fire in Los Alamos were alarmed by their situation.

Two women -- unaware that a shelter was even being opened here -- figured that the best place to be might be one of the 24-hour casinos in nearby


"They were down there playing and just hanging out," recalled Linda Huchton of the White Rock Baptist Church. "Then they heard about the shelter so

they came back up here."

The two women -- who weren't immediately identified but were described as in their "late 60s at least" -- found the shelter being run at the church by the

American Red Cross just as inviting, Huchton reported.

"They were just bright and perky," she said. "They said, 'If we can't be home and we have to go out and be with all these people, we might as well party.'"

The two women were among some 500 families were who were forced to evacuate their homes as the wildfire -- one of two major fires burning in the

state, with the other in Ruidoso -- threatened the town with flames and thick smoke. The fire forced the top secret Los Alamos National Laboratory to

shut down and prompted the closing of county schools and offices.

Firefighters tried to gain an upper hand on both fires Tuesday as winds died down.

About 50 people stayed at the shelter on Sunday night, with some 40 people stayed there the following night, Huchton said. They included families with

children as well as a handful of elderly residents. Other evacuees found shelter with friends, family and motels throughout the region.

Huchton said the two sociable women who came to the shelter didn't find it a hardship, unlike at least one elderly woman who had been homebound and

who arrived at the church with her caregiver.

"She was upset just from being removed from her house," Huchton said. "That's where she always is. She's doing well but it was very upsetting for her."

Not so the two other women.

"They said they were out of the house and there's all these people to talk to," Huchton said. "They're incredibly social. They're talking to everybody, just

making the most of it.

"They were just having a grand time," she added. "The two of them together were just going to make the most of it and visit with everybody. They were

having a real good time.

"They weren't that worried about their houses," she said. "They said, 'We had to get out, so we're out and here we are and look at all these people.'"

A local Girl Scout troop visited the shelter on Monday to entertain children staying at the church. They brought crayons, paints, videos and other things

for the youngsters to play with, Huchton said.

Volunteers from the church were providing meals to the people staying there. During the day, the evacuees emptied out of the shelter, some heading to a local senior center, that expanded its hours to accommodate the new arrivals.

"If you had stayed here (at the shelter) during the day, it's incredibly boring," she said.

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