Victims build back home after Calf Canyon/Hermit’s Peak Fire

[anvplayer video=”5171491″ station=”998122″]

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It’s been nearly eight months since crews officially put out the Calf Canyon/Hermit’s Peak Fire but many are still feeling its heat as they build back home.

Fire victims can tell you that various tasks, like filing FEMA paperwork or doing daily chores, become much tougher when you’re displaced. 

Jerry Gomez remembers the shock he felt when he found out he wouldn’t have a home to return to.

“My brother calls me and says, ‘Well, sorry brother, it’s gone,’ so what do you do, you know?”

Nothing on Gomez’s property – his truck, mementos, even the piñon tree that his kids planted years ago – was safe from the fire. After sifting through the debris, all he knew he could do was clear everything away and start over.

“No matter what happens, every day has got to get better. And I know that we stumble and we fall, and we say, ‘Why are we having to do this?’ We say, ‘This is not right,’ well of course it’s not right, but it already happened. So, now, what do we do?” Gomez expressed.

With a few lent tools and friends and family’s help, Gomez built a brand new casita, mostly by hand. It was smaller than his old house, but he was overjoyed to have it. For most of last year, he was temporarily living in a rickety trailer.

“This I milled with my own sawmill with the lumber that was here that was burnt, just to have something in the house that was originally from here,” he explained.

Sprawled out on Gomez’s bed was a quilt that a friend made for him. Just above that bed is a metal emblem with an elk and his family name. The crest reminds him of his willingness to grow and it’s the first thing he wants to see when he wakes up.

Gomez considers himself an optimist but admits not everybody affected by the fire was able to bounce back as quickly as he did.

“It’s not easy. It’s not easy to work through it, but that’s part of it, no? Even good people get frustrated. The people who lost everything, they can’t see it. They can’t understand tomorrow because they are still full of hate. How do we get them out of there?” he said.

While the fire didn’t take anyone’s life, Gomez says what it did take was the rural communities’ hearts and culture.

“The people down the road who made every adobe by hand, and now all of those are gone. And now that they’re old enough, they’re not going to make any more adobes. We have lived here forever and we don’t want to change that. We can sell the place and go somewhere-no no no no no. There are too many roots here,” he said.

Gomez says every nail and screw in his new home brings him closer to remembering his ancestors. It also brings him some ease. 

“I can live here now. It’s comfortable. The agony goes away now that I have all this. It’s a powerful feeling, I’m home, I can do what I need to do,” he said.