Homeowners not happy with official explanation of fire, Santa Fe New Mexican 5/19/00
The Associated Press © 5/18/2000

LOS ALAMOS - A handful of homeowners displaced by a forest fire that raced through this mountain community last week weren't satisfied with the explanation Thursday from federal officials about what happened to send the flames through their homes.

"They're just saying, 'Here's what happened.' We already know what happened - the damned forest burned down," said Danne DeBacker, whose home in the northwest part of Los Alamos was destroyed.

DeBacker shared a beer with friends in a dim neighborhood bar in a strip shopping mall as he watched television coverage of a news conference by Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and other officials. The officials discussed how a fire deliberately set by the Park Service to burn out brush ran out of control and left 405 Los Alamos families homeless.

"I'm sad, not just for my house, but for the forest," DeBacker said. "Before these little black sticks were standing around here, we had a really pristine forest."

DeBacker, who was wearing a new watch he'd just bought, said he was able to save only some cameras and guitars when he evacuated.

Homeowners wanted to hear at least an apology from top government officials for the still-burning Cerro Grande Fire. They said they don't feel they got that apology, and said Babbitt's explanation sounded eerily similar to explanations given by Attorney General Janet Reno for other federal actions that ended in disaster.

"If you liked Waco, you'd love Cerro Grande," said Dan Richards, who house was spared by the fire although flames crept to about 50 feet away. Everything across the street burned, and he found charred insulation and burned pages of books on his lawn when he was allowed to return home.

Hal and Judy DeHaven lost their home of 23 years.

"There was a lot of irresponsibility here," Hal DeHaven said. "They weren't prepared for what happened. This confirms our suspicion that they burned our houses down and they owe us something."

Click here to read The Cerro Grande Prescribed Fire Investigation Report from the Secretary of Interior, Bruce Babbitt