Las Conchas Fire: Sacred Landscapes Destroyed, Hearts Broken… but Life will Go On in the Forrest
Last weekend I drove from Espanola to Jemez Springs along NM 4, through the heartland of the Jemez Mountains. I’ve had a personal attachment to that magnificent landscape, especially the Valles Caldera, ever since I came here in 1975. My husband and I have explored backcountry of Bandolier, the valles of the Caldera, and the trails winding through tent rocks, volcanic tuff, ponderosas and pinon forests. Like other nearby urbanites, we’ve sent our offspring to summer camp in the Jemez, and have enjoyed a weekend place in Jemez Springs since 1992.
That is all history now. Smoke covers the Parajito ski area in Los Alamos, and there is an eerie silence among the blackened remains of Coyote Call trail, the floor of the Valle Grande, Bland and Alamo canyons. The largest and hottest fire New Mexico has ever seen has burned over 233 square miles. Bandolier National Monument will be closed for a year. And the fire is not out, despite 2,400 pick-and-shovel “hot shots” on the ground, high-tech air support and a military-style incident command formed to fight the battle.
The land defines us here in New Mexico and we are greatly attached to it-- even if we don’t depend upon it for our livelihood. We look to it to connect us to the natural order of things, a connection that was severed as I watched the initial smoke column billow over Cat Mesa near my cabin on June 26 (above) . Whipped by 40 mph winds, the fire grew faster in that first Sunday than in all the rest of the week.
“This will be a great teaching opportunity for us,” the young biologist told me at the Valles Caldera Headquarters. “We were planning some controlled burns in there anyway,” she said. It was the kind of remark that drew me out of the selfish thought that never again during my lifetime will I see the uninterrupted green of the beautiful watersheds that make up the Jemez.
On Deck: Fireworks Ban to Prevent Future Disasters
As the fire in the Jemez raged on, many of you contacted me to ask if we could allow the Governor to ban fireworks in times of drought. She currently does not have that power. I recounted the history of my attempt to pass a bill to give the Gov. that power in the wake of the Bosque fire, which was caused by fireworks, here in the North Valley in 2003. (To make a long story short, the bill was defeated after an award-winning performance by the lobbyist for the fireworks industry who indicated that a mom-and-pop business would be destroyed if a ban was enacted. His tearful testimony was effective and in spite of the presence of uniformed firemen from around the state pleading for a ban, the bill was tabled.) Fast forward: I am now working the Governor’s office on this public safety issue and expect it to surface in one of the upcoming sessions. Our bill will give cities and counties more flexibility to ban fireworks, too.