Santa Fe County firefighters are hoping for the recovery of one of their volunteers, who was one of two New Mexico Gas Co. workers burned in a gas line fire Wednesday in north Santa Fe.
According to a close friend, Stephen Baca, assistant district chief of the Pojoaque Valley Volunteer Fire Department, was finishing a day shift with New Mexico Gas Co. on Wednesday, when he was asked to work overtime.
“He said, ‘Ya, I’ll work, no problem,’ ” Santa Fe County Fire Department Lt. Joshua Duran said Friday.
Baca continued working on the gas line in a residential development under construction at the corner of Placita de Luna and Camino Francisca, near the Zocalo Santa Fe condominiums, Duran said.
At 6:48 p.m. Wednesday, reports of towering flames poured into Santa Fe police dispatch. Baca, one of the two men on duty, was airlifted to University Hospital in Albuquerque. Duran said he suffered burns from the waist up and remained in critical condition Friday.
The other worker, whose identity was not released by the utility company, suffered burns to his hands and arms, according to Santa Fe police.
Duran said Baca, 30, was a backhoe operator for the company. The backhoe located at the scene of the fire was destroyed, along with the trailer that carried it, according to city of Santa Fe Fire Department Assistant Chief Erik Litzenberg. An investigation by the Pipeline Safety Committee of the state Public Regulation Commission is in its preliminary stages, according to officials, and the cause of the fire has not been determined.
“Our spirits, the whole fire department family, are down,” Duran said. “Everybody is pretty torn up.”
Teala Kail, a spokeswoman for New Mexico Gas Co., lives near University Hospital and said she could hear the helicopter transporting Baca fly over her house. She said the two men “were doing routine modification work on the distribution system” near the development when the gas line exploded.
Baca is a 1997 graduate of Pojoaque Valley High School. According to his Facebook page, he started working at New Mexico Gas Co. the summer after his high school graduation. Duran said Baca’s mother, father and sister, who all live in the Pojoaque Valley, were at University Hospital on Friday. Attempts to reach them were unsuccessful.
Capt. Mike Jaffa, the Santa Fe County Fire Department’s volunteer coordinator, said Baca has been a volunteer since 2002.
“He was just a really dedicated, fun-loving guy,” Jaffa said, while looking at a 2005 photo of Baca, wearing his volunteer firefighter uniform.
Phone calls to Baca’s supervisor, Pojoaque District Chief Nick Martinez, were not returned Friday. Duran said Martinez had spent the last 48 hours with the Baca family.
“In our line of work, you see a lot of bad things, but to see this with a brother — it hurts,” Duran said.
Paramedics at the Pojoaque station, Amanda Barclay and Daniel Myer, said Friday that everyone at the station is “heartbroken.” Barclay described Baca as “having a heart of gold.”
“It’s a huge loss for us here,” Barclay said. “There are no words for it.”