Sandoval Signpost


An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988
  Public Safety

Boxes of french fries stack up on the I-25 Exit 242 southbound onramp in Bernalillo after a tractor-trailer hauling 40,000 pounds of the cargo rolled over on May 7. Photo credit—Bill Diven

Placitas burglaries

—Allen Mills, Criminal Investigations Sergeant

On May 14, two residential burglaries were reported in Placitas. One was reported in the Placitas Trails area near Hwy 165 and occurred between 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. A neighbor reported seeing a white SUV in the area. A large television and jewelry items were taken. A second burglary was reported around mile marker 9 on 165, near the forest boundary. A handgun was reported stolen from the residence.

On May 23, a residential burglary was reported on Sandia Lane off Juniper Road in Placitas. The burglary occurred at approximately 11:00 a.m. An unknown male entered the home through an unlocked door and took jewelry items from inside the home. The male was seen leaving the area in a gold Hyundai car.   

Please be alert for any suspicious persons and/or activity in your neighborhood. Do not confront suspicious persons. Simply document as much information as you safely can (from a distance) that could aid the Sheriff’s Office in identifying the suspicious persons/activity.

Look out for your neighbors—if they are traveling out of the area, remove newspapers and blown trash from their driveways as these things are a sign that no one is home.

Report suspicious persons/ activities to the Sheriff’s Office, via the Sheriff’s non-emergency telephone number: 867-4581. If you know or suspect that a burglary or another crime is in progress, immediately report it to the Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office by dialing 911.

Placitas amateur radio group prepares for disaster

—Dennis Collins

Have you ever been concerned about what would happen if there were a major catastrophe, such as a pipeline break and explosion, or a major wildfire that blocked Highway 165, or a major flood, or even an earthquake? In places like Placitas, with only one major road in and out, the only practicable evacuation route could become jammed or even blocked if any of these events were to occur.

In anticipation of such a catastrophe, the Sandia Vista Amateur Radio Club (SVARC) of Placitas is working on ways to quickly mobilize effective, flexible, emergency communications. These volunteers are preparing communications equipment that can be operational within hours of activation. A further part of preparation is emergency operator training to ensure smooth inter-operability with federal, state, and county agencies. At the center of the training are FEMA emergency communications practices. Field Day 2014 is upcoming. Field Day is a nationwide, annual event among amateur radio operators. All across the country, ham radio operators set up temporary emergency stations, antennas, and power sources to practice for real emergencies.

To find a relative measure of each group’s effectiveness, points are awarded for every radio contact with other Field Day stations across the country. Competition, while pretty serious, is great fun and an effective way to ensure regular exercise of emergency communications skills and equipment. Each Field Day event is used to evaluate the effectiveness of the station, and identify areas that could be improved.

This year’s Field Day station will be set up at the West side of the Merc parking lot, in Placitas, on June 28, during the Placitas Flea Market. SVARC’s Field Day station will be open to the public. Those who are interested in learning more about disaster communications, or want to see amateur radio in operation, are invited to drop by.

SVARC meets every third Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. at Fire Station 41, on Highway 165, near the Placitas Library, and is open to amateur radio operators and anyone interested in learning more about amateur radio.

Brian Hightower unbundles juniper branches as Pedro Villegas (left) and Lance Bernal of Forest Fitness wait to load them in a wood chipper set up outside the Placitas Community Library.
Photo credit—Bill Diven

Fire season brings out warnings and wood chipper

—Bill Diven

On a recent Saturday, with southern California and part of the Gila National Forest ablaze, Placitas residents attacked the wildfire threat here one juniper at a time. Outside the Placitas Community Library a wood chipper churned away, reducing juniper branches and other cleared vegetation into piles of chips.

“We know what the situation is here,” Brian Hightower said as he and Dean Lamb pulled branches from their pickup truck. “We’re living in a tinderbox.”

Hightower, who has worked for a tree service, was making his second chipper run from a single large juniper about twenty feet from a friend’s house. He estimated the juniper to be three hundred years old but said it was clearly dying.

The free chipping was run by volunteers working toward Firewise certification for Placitas and funded by the Coronado Soil and Water Conservation District. The next chipping at the library will be on June 21 with another event being planned for September in the Placitas Open Space.

On April 30, Sandoval County banned open burning in areas outside of municipalities, but not everyone has gotten the message. Arlene Campbell, a wood-chipping volunteer and past member of the Placitas Fire Brigade, said she already has reported one open fire. “I’m not worried about a fire in the forest,” she said. “I’m worried about a neighbor with an illegal fire.”

The volunteers describe junipers as “little green gasoline cans” because once ignited they burn hot and fast and throw off lots of embers.

The Sandoval County Fire Department for the first time will be putting up signs reminding county residents of the burn ban. One will be on State Road 165 entering Placitas, Fire Chief James Maxon said. The department is staging extra resources around the county and has added a brush truck to Station 41 next to the Placitas library and a water tender to Station 43 on Petroglyph Trails in western Placitas.

“Our goal is to keep a fire small,” Maxon said. “People are aware, but there’s still some burning. That’s why we’re putting up the signs.”

The county also moved two 15,000-gallon storage tanks, donated by Intel to Station 41. They won’t be operational until the end of the year.

Coronado contracted with Forest Fitness of Tijeras for the wood chipping as part of its broad charge to protect land and water resources. Of particular concern is a forest fire destroying the watershed above Placitas, which would in turn increase storm runoff threatening the district’s Piedra Liza Dam and the town of Bernalillo below it.

“The Forest Service administers the [Las Huertas] Canyon and the area behind the village,” Coronado Secretary-Treasure Jon Couch said. “We’re more focused on water and private land owners.”

Unlike most government agencies, Coronado, a subset of the New Mexico Department of Agriculture, can spend money on private land. It recently partnered with Placitas residents on five fire-reduction demonstration projects, extending from the edge of the Cibola National Forest and Sandia Wilderness, where the fire danger is highest, to the juniper savanna where a wind-driven blaze would threaten homes.

The district has applied for $15,000 dollars in state and federal grant funding to treat about eighty Placitas properties and as many as two hundred more across the Coronado district from Placitas to Cochiti Pueblo. It costs about one thousand dollars to treat one property with the owner expected to pay half plus a fifty dollar fee to assess the work to be done.

Separately, Coronado is working with the three acequia districts in Placitas to renovate reservoirs to benefit irrigators while ponding water that could be used in a fire emergency.

Nationally, the Firewise Communities Program recommends a minimum of thirty feet of clear space around structures if firefighters are to have any hope of defending them. The “home ignition zone” extends out as much as two hundred feet depending on risk factors.

Vicki Gottlieb said the Placitas volunteers are working toward becoming one of the more than one thousand Firewise Communities in forty states, a task made difficult by the lack of a wildfire-protection plan for the area.

A county document contains two pages on Placitas, noting the fire danger is high near the forest and medium below, with only a single highway available as an evacuation route, Gottlieb said.

“Our whole purpose is education and awareness,” she said. Taking the initiative to address fire risks “is the neighborly thing to do,” she added, since it reduces the threat of a fire spreading. Another complication she mentioned was that much of the forest immediately above the village is designated federal wilderness, therefore using mechanical equipment to thin trees and brush is prohibited.

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