One year ago next week, the Las Conchas Fire roared to life in the Jemez Mountains, and by the time the smoke cleared in August it had become the largest wildfire in state history. With an even more extensive fire now burning in the Gila Mountains, we recognize a few of the many heroes who worked last year's fire as a reminder of the vital role both professionals and volunteers play in the prevention and eradication of wildfires and in so many other emergency situations.
For their efforts related to the Las Conchas Fire, a number of individuals and organizations were recently honored as Humanitarian Heroes by the New Mexico Chapter of the American Red Cross.
Among those recognized was Mateo DeVargas, emergency preparedness director for the Rio Arriba County Fire and Rescue Department. DeVargas led a team that helped coordinate the evacuation of Los Alamos nursing homes and the Los Alamos Medical Center when the fire appeared to threaten the area.
Also recognized was Albuquerque firefighter Jerome Macdonald, deputy incident commander for the Southwest Area National Incident Management Team. Macdonald accepted the award on behalf of all responders.
The Las Conchas Fire also was cited when White Rock resident John Mitsunaga was recently named New Mexico Federal Employee of the Year. A physical security specialist for the National Nuclear Security Administration's Los Alamos Site Office, Mitsunaga is responsible for the protection of Los Alamos National Laboratory and much of the surrounding area.
Mitsunaga also oversees protection of "sensitive assets" on lab property, an issue that came into play during last year's wildfire.
"John is an exemplary professional who is vital to the safe and secure operation of LANL," commented Michael Duvall, assistant manager for LASO Safeguards and Security. After hours, Mitsunaga serves as president of the Los Alamos Public Safety Association, and is involved in several other community-oriented activities.
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A current exhibit of pastel paintings by artist and state employee Julie Maas has been extended through June in the State Land Commissioner's Gallery. Maas, a public relations specialist with the State Engineer's Office, uses soft pastels and pure pigment sticks to create vibrant depictions of New Mexico's diverse landscapes and architectural beauty.
Influenced early in life by her artistic father, the Wisconsin native earned a BFA from Colorado State University and is a member of the Pastel Society of New Mexico. Maas' work can be viewed online at juliemaas.fineartstudioonline.com
. The Commissioner's Gallery, located in the New Mexico State Land Office at 310 Old Santa Fe Trail, is open from 8 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
If you have news about a public employee, contact Fauntleroy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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