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Dorothy Nobis

Bloomfield Fire Chief John Mohler holds the thank you card signed by residents of the San de Cristo neighborhood

The call came in at 3:59 p.m. It was a structure fire on San de Cristo, just off East Broadway in Bloomfield.

A piece of fat from meat being grilled on a family's barbecue grill sparked a fire that could have devastated an entire neighborhood. With fast action from the Bloomfield Fire Department, the Farmington Fire Department, several fire stations in San Juan County, the US Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, no homes were lost in this fire.

"We fought the fire for four and a half hours," said Bloomfield Fire Chief John Mohler. "And we kept trucks in the neighborhood all night, watching for hot spots that could have ignited another fire."

With two paid employees and 22 volunteers, the BFD sprang into action that hot, dry afternoon.

"We had no equipment left in the station," Mohler said with a shake of his head. "(Former Fire Chief) George Duncan came down and took out the last heavy rescue truck and former volunteer, Pat Lucero, and (current volunteer) Kevin Mauzy took out the last fire truck at Station 3."

"The fire was caused by grilling outside, but it was the cleanest yard I've ever seen," Mohler said of the fire site. "It was just one of those accidents."

"One of those accidents" are more possible this year than in years past, Mohler explained. "With the dry conditions and hot weather, we all need to be especially careful and be safe. We need to keep debris and weeds away from homes and wood fences."

"As soon as we got the call about San de Cristo, we started calling everyone we could get to help. The county's Emergency Manager handled the media and the calls from oil companies that have lines in the area. Everyone reacted quickly and we made sure everybody was safe. We want to save everyone's personal property without endangering anybody," Mohler said.

A shed full of ammunition and propane tanks caught on fire and the contents exploded one at a time. The explosion of the propane tanks caused loud booms, Mohler said, "which makes everybody nervous."

Every home in the neighborhood was saved. "It was a miracle," Mohler said, "I don't know how we did it – it was just great team work."

That team work has improved over the years, Mohler added. "It seems like in the last year, all of the fire departments have a better relationship than ever before. In years past, each department would try to take care of its own problems. Now we realize we need more help and with one call, we can get all the help we need. It makes a big difference."

While paid and volunteer firefighters are trained to fight fires and protect people and property, the adrenaline rush doesn't end while fighting a fire, Mohler said. "It ends about the time you're putting up all the hoses and cleaning up," he admitted. "It takes time to put everything up, washing the tucks and getting all of the black stuff from the fire off of everything. We know now that firefighters have a 100-200 percent increased chance in getting cancer because of the soot. And cancer doesn't care if you're a paid firefighter or a volunteer."

Mohler admitted he worries about his firefighters. "I learned from the San de Cristo fire that our department needs more training," he said. "As a chief, I want my people to be safe. We have a debriefing of every fire and we talk about what we could have done better."

Volunteers are needed by every fire department in the county, Mohler said, adding that many of the volunteers are young people who want to serve their community and, ultimately, become a paid firefighter. But the need for volunteers with some life experiences are also needed.

"We need people with some medical training, someone to drive a truck or file our reports," he said. "We need people who are willing to volunteer during the summers and help when we need to send firefighters to other parts of the country to help."

The families who live on San de Cristo created a thank you card for the Bloomfield Fire Department. Dona Lynch's daughter has a home in the neighborhood and she shared her appreciation to the department on social media.

"Thank you all so much, Bloomfield Fire Department and San Juan County Fire Department for the hard work in putting out the fire. And thank you, San de Cristo neighborhood for the card you made for them. You all saved my daughter's house and we appreciate it!"

"You are all amazing," wrote the Wheeler family on the thank you card. "Thank you for saving our homes on San de Cristo Street!"

The estimated value of all of the homes on San de Cristo that were saved was about $2.5 million, Chief Mohler said.

"The citizens of Bloomfield are very fortunate to have such a high caliber fire department," said Bloomfield Mayor Scott Eckstein. "Their Insurance Services Office (OSO) rating of a 2 puts our fire department in the top 2.5 percent in the nation. Their expertise was demonstrated in this fire, with their ability to save homes from being lost and containing/extinguishing the fire as quickly as they did."

"The Bloomfield Fire Department is to be commended for their actions," Eckstein added. "I also thank the Farmington and San Juan County Fire Departments, as well as the BLM and U.S. Forest Service, for providing mutual aid as the fire was brought under control I have heard many praises from people in the San de Cristo neighborhood for the actions of our fire department."


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