Former Kiwanians Describe Fire In Ute Park/Cimarron

Los Alamos Kiwanis Club

When I was Lieutenant Governor of Kiwanis Division 3 from 2008 to 2010, I visited what was then the Kiwanis Club of Cimarron many times.

I would recruit three or four other Los Alamos Kiwanians; drive to Cimarron (population 1,021) by way of Taos and Ute Park; stay at the wonderful old, historic (and “haunted”) St. James Hotel; and pay an official Kiwanis visit to the Cimarron club during its weekly breakfast session in the hotel’s meeting room.

I always enjoyed it. The club was very active. Many of its members worked at Philmont Scout Ranch, a rugged, beautiful 219-square-mile wilderness location in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Between June 8 and Aug. 22 each year, the ranch hosts 22,000 Scouts and adult leaders, who live in tents, hike and ride, and learn about the land and its wildlife.

Vicky Harper was Secretary of the Cimarron Kiwanis Club for many years, and her husband, Barry, was treasurer. They were great people. Their club eventually dwindled and disbanded, and I lost track of them.

However, last week, when the TV stations began running horrifying photos of flames and clouds of smoke that filled the sky over Cimarron and the entire town was evacuated, I remembered them. I also remembered what it was like to be evacuated from Los Alamos—twice—because of fire.

I got out my old address lists, searched diligently, and found Vicky’s cell phone number.

I’m so glad I did.

First, and most important, Vicky said, “We are OK.”  She said she has heard of no injuries. “We were asked to evacuate because of smoke and ash.” It was so bad, she said, that it hurt even to open her eyes.

Evacuation is always an “adventure.” She said she and her husband spent Friday night (June 1) sleeping on the floor of a hangar in Raton owned by a friend who has a plane. They had hotel reservations for Saturday night (June 2) and were looking forward to hot showers.

Vicky, who works at the Scout Ranch, said the fire started in beautiful Ute Canyon, “up near Eagle Nest,” and moved east toward Cimarron. Twelve structures had burned by the time we talked (shortly before noon on Saturday), but, she said, they were on “vacant properties (including an old girls’ camp)” that Philmont bought a couple of years ago and wasn’t using.

She said that the beautiful old mansion and other buildings at the center of Philmont had not burned, and that the 1,100 employees of the ranch had been safety evacuated for health reasons.

She noted that the scouts weren’t scheduled to arrive until June 8.

She said the assistance provided to the evacuees has been “just amazing.” She noted that the convention center in Raton and the old armory “opened to people” who needed a place to stay.

There has been an “outpouring of support from all over the county,” she said—and she commented that small towns are wonderful in emergencies.

And the old Kiwanis Club of Cimarron?

She said many of the members now belong to what is called the “Cimarron Civic Club,” and yes, they are planning to staff a Fourth of July Concession Stand at the Cimarron Rodeo Grounds—just like always.

May God keep them safe.