Ranch house after August flood.

A ranch house and outbuildings owned by the University of New Mexico north of Cochiti Lake have been completely destroyed after a series of weather-related catastrophes over the summer.  The ranch house and buildings were used by the Anthropology Department for Field Schools and by the Earth and Planetary Sciences Department.

Problems began on the weekend of June 26 when the Las Conchas fire raced along the mesas at the top of Cochiti Canyon.  Blowing and burning debris brought the fire down into the canyon, starting fires in the dry foliage around the ranch house and buildings.  The house was completely burned and the roof collapsed into the building.  A nearby pump house was burned, but a garage and bunkhouse survived the fire with only minor damage.  Quick work by Jim Mullane, of the Dixon Apple Orchard and the Peña Blanca Fire Department saved the two structures.

UNM Physical plant staff members visited the site as soon as they could gain access.  They realized the remaining structures were vulnerable to erosion as the New Mexico monsoon season began and began work to protect the garage and bunkhouse and to restore electricity since the fire had burned several electrical poles.  After that the NM State Land Office, which owned surrounding land, and UNM began hydro-seeding, installing waddles, a netting that helps capture debris, and erecting jersey barriers along the banks of the creek in an effort to provide a channel for possible flood waters because the burned areas at the head of the canyon had no living vegetation to slow runoff from rain storms.  They also dug and widened the creek to give flood waters a path down the canyon into Cochiti Lake.

On Aug. 3, significant rains at the top of the canyon caused partial flooding of the buildings.  Then heavy rains on Aug. 14, 15 and 16 carried soil, ash, trees and boulders downstream, jumping the banks of the creek and floating the jersey barriers downstream.  According to Gary Smith, associate director of Environmental Services, eight and nine foot boulders smashed into the walls of the bunk house filling it with 4 feet of water, mud and debris.  No part of the garage could be found, although crews searched the downstream area for any sign of it.

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It's not clear what will happen next.  Smith says nothing can be built at the site for several years, until the erosion from the burn scar can be controlled, so decisions regarding the ranch are pending.

Media contact: Karen Wentworth (505) 277-5627; e-mail: kwent2@unm.edu