Wildfire burns near river considered sacred by Indians

Friday, July 11, 2003

TAOS PUEBLO, N.M. -- Firefighters battled a blaze Thursday in the mountains of northern New Mexico that is threatening a river considered sacred by an American Indian community.

The fire has burned 5,000 acres, including patches of the Rio Pueblo watershed, since it started July 4 by lightning. It was 10 percent contained Thursday morning.

"The Rio Pueblo is 100 percent of our drinking water. It is spiritual water for us. Religion and everything is tied to it," said Mark Lujan, the Taos Pueblo governor's secretary. "We are looking at protecting this watershed."

Because the area is sacred, only American Indians were fighting the fire as it nears the waterway. Nearly 900 firefighters and other personnel were assigned to the fire.

The firefighters were also building firelines in nearby Taos Canyon, home to nearly 400 families. The canyon is about 2 miles south of the fire, and officials say residences there could be threatened.

Helicopters were dumping water from ponds formed by the Rio Pueblo to control the fire, but Lujan said the pueblo was concerned about dropping fire retardant since the river is used for drinking water.

No evacuations have been ordered in Taos Pueblo, which has about 1,200 people. The community is about a half-mile west of the fire.

Some people have left voluntarily because of health concerns related to the smoke. The plume has been visible from Taos Pueblo for the past few afternoons.

"Some people get emotionally charged with something like this. They haven't seen it before," Lujan said.

At least 20 other fires were burning in the West early Thursday. A 120-acre fire in Park County, Colo., was threatening about 40 homes, said Steve Ambrose, spokesman for the Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center.

Warmer weather has raised the fire risk in the Rockies, which had a cool, wet spring. The National Interagency Fire Center said the danger ranged from high to extreme in swaths of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington, and sunny dry weather was forecast through the week.

------

Taos Pueblo: http://www.taospueblo.com

Carson National Forest: http://www.fs.fed.us/r3/carson

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: