El Prado house fire ends in tragedy

Family fears longtime archaeologist was inside home when it burned

By John Miller
jmiller@taosnews.com
Posted 1/10/19

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 …

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El Prado house fire ends in tragedy

Family fears longtime archaeologist was inside home when it burned

Posted

Investigators discovered a set of human remains inside a Mirlo Road home that caught fire 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-year-old 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. Then 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 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 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 the 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.

Whatever might have happened, 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.”

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