El Prado house fire ends in tragedy

Fam­ily fears long­time ar­chae­ol­o­gist was in­side home when it burned

The Taos News - - FRONT PAGE - By John Miller [email protected]­news.com

In­ves­ti­ga­tors dis­cov­ered a set of hu­man re­mains in­side a Mirlo Road home that burst into flames Mon­day af­ter­noon (Jan. 7), mark­ing a tragic end to one of the most chal­leng­ing struc­ture fires county fire­fight­ers have seen in years.

At press time Wednes­day (Jan. 9), in­ves­ti­ga­tors had still not iden­ti­fied the body, but fam­ily of the home’s owner be­lieve he was in­side when the struc­ture burned.

Taos County Fire Chief Michael Cór­dova said the fire at the one-story adobe in El Prado drew a re­sponse from eight county fire de­part­ments. At the scene were mem­bers of the Taos County Emer­gency Ser­vices De­part­ment, Taos County Sher­iff’s Of­fice, pub­lic works de­part­ment, wild­lands of­fice and Kit Car­son Elec­tric Co­op­er­a­tive.

All told, 49 peo­ple re­sponded af­ter the fire was called in around 4 p.m., with fire­fight­ers work­ing into Tues­day morn­ing (Jan. 8), knock­ing down flames and clear­ing thick white smoke be­fore they could make en­try.

Fire­fight­ers po­si­tioned them­selves across the home’s snow-cov­ered yard Mon­day night, di­rect­ing blasts of wa­ter and foam from wide-di­am­e­ter hoses at flames lick­ing the home’s adobe walls. Some wore oxy­gen tanks on their backs and res­pi­ra­tors on their faces as they moved in close to break win­dows and clear de­bris.

As night fell, the tem­per­a­ture dropped to 17 de­grees, caus­ing wa­ter and hoses trucked in by tanker trucks parked around the neigh­bor­hood to be­gin to freeze, com­pli­cat­ing the op­er­a­tion.

Cór­dova de­scribed their strat­egy as a de­fen­sive one. From the first fire­fight­ers’ ar­rival, he said the home was too dan­ger­ous to en­ter to see if any­one was trapped in­side.

“You still got peo­ple in­side, Mikey?” one fire­fighter drag­ging a length of hose across the yard said to an­other Mon­day night.

“Pos­si­bly,” was the re­sponse.

It re­mained a ques­tion un­til early Tues­day af­ter­noon, when in­ves­ti­ga­tors dis­patched from the New Mex­ico Fire Mar­shall’s Of­fice in Santa Fe dis­cov­ered a body in­side a pantry ad­join­ing the garage of the home.

“At this point, this is be­ing listed as a John Doe be­cause we can’t make any iden­ti­fi­ca­tions,” said Sgt. Ja­son Rael of the sher­iff’s of­fice.

The home’s owner, 80-yearold Dr. Jon Young, could not be lo­cated in the im­me­di­ate area af­ter the fire started on Mon­day. A black Sub­ur­ban bear­ing a li­cense plate stamped with “Dr Jon” could be seen parked in the drive­way, dan­ger­ously close to the flames.

His fam­ily is cer­tain the re­mains must be his, ac­cord­ing to Kim Howitt Ross, who is mar­ried to Young’s nephew. A pos­i­tive iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, how­ever, will have to come from the New Mex­ico Of­fice of the Med­i­cal In­ves­ti­ga­tor, and that may take weeks.

Young’s son, Kevin Young, trav­eled from Ari­zona to New Mex­ico early Tues­day morn­ing to meet with in­ves­ti­ga­tors, who are search­ing the scorched home to iden­tify what caused the deadly fire.

On Wednes­day morn­ing, Young’s brother, Rob Young, called The Taos News from Ari­zona to say that he also feared the worst.

He said his brother re­ceived his doc­tor­ate in an­thro­pol­ogy from the Univer­sity of Ari­zona. He moved to Taos in the 1970s and worked as a di­rec­tor of the Kit Car­son Me­mo­rial Foun­da­tion, and soon af­ter, as an ar­chae­ol­o­gist for the Car­son Na­tional For­est.

Ar­chae­ol­ogy was his brother’s call­ing, Rob Young said, re­mem­ber­ing that his brother would ven­ture out into the desert where they grew up in Florence, Ari­zona, car­ry­ing a shovel, and would re­turn with price­less ar­ti­facts he dug up from the sand.

“He could throw a shovel and come up with a whole pot,” he said. “He just knew how to do it. So that’s what he took up as a ca­reer.”

He said his brother built the El Prado home with his wife, in part to house the trea­sures he had col­lected over the course of his life and to raise their two sons, Kevin and Shawn. An­cient ar­ti­facts, jew­elry, Navajo rugs and fine pot­tery made by the late Joseph Lonewolf of Santa Clara Pue­blo were among the prized pos­ses­sions he kept there later in life.

Given the op­por­tu­nity, Rob Young said his brother’s com­pul­sion to sal­vage some of his trea­sures might have been strong.

While he em­pha­sized that nei­ther he nor any­one else knows for cer­tain at this point, he said de­tails found this week suggested that’s what might have hap­pened.

“Kevin told me the door to the Sub­ur­ban was open,” he said. “The garage door was open. The pantry door was open.”

None of it was typ­i­cal of his brother, he said, adding that Jon Young was re­li­gious about keep­ing his car in his garage, where the flames ap­peared to be con­cen­trated when the fire was re­ported on Mon­day. He said in­ves­ti­ga­tors found other ev­i­dence to sug­gest his brother might have been out shop­ping and had bought some Chi­nese food be­fore the fire started.

He said it’s pos­si­ble his brother might have re­turned to find his home smok­ing or in flames. Maybe he rushed in­side to sal­vage the trea­sures that were, in many ways, sym­bolic of his life’s work.

But Rob Young said his brother’s im­pact was big­ger than that.

“He was al­ways in­ter­ested in Na­tive cul­ture and gave a lot of talks about it at his­tor­i­cal so­ci­eties,” he said. “He was an ex­pert and a very good teacher of what he knew.”

John Miller/The Taos News

Fire­fight­ers di­rect wa­ter at a house in El Prado that caught fire for un­known rea­sons Mon­day (Jan. 7). In­ves­ti­ga­tors dis­cov­ered hu­man re­mains in­side the garage of the home on Tues­day (Jan. 8). They may be­long to the home’s owner, Dr. Jon Young.

John Miller/The Taos News

Fire­fight­ers spray cool­ing foam at a house in El Prado that caught fire for un­known rea­sons Mon­day (Jan. 7). In­ves­ti­ga­tors dis­cov­ered hu­man re­mains in­side the garage of the home on Tues­day (Jan. 8). They may be­long to the home’s owner, Dr. Jon Young.

John Miller/The Taos News

A vol­un­teer fire­fighter se­cures a res­pi­ra­tor as he pre­pares to head back to a fire at a one-story adobe home that burned in El Prado on Mon­day (Jan. 7).

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