Tuesday, July 12, 2011


Photo credit: Jayson Coil  www.jaysoncoil.com

As many of you probably know, the largest and fastest moving wildland fire in New Mexico history erupted  two weeks ago. Ground zero of this fire was only two miles from our house, but the prevailing winds pushed it the other direction.  Record hot and dry conditions, plus high  wind, set up the perfect storm for this fire. At one point, it was moving something like 10 acres a minute.   It now encompasses  well over 100 square MILES.
Tragically, over 30 homes were lost, and some folks had only minutes to evacuate and could only turn their livestock loose and pray.   One firefighter lost everything, including three beautiful horses that perished in the blaze, yet he continues to battle this fire. A few cattle were found huddled against a fence after the burn, alive.  Within 24 hours, the fire was already dangerously close to the city of Los Alamos, 25 miles away, and the population of 18,000 was evacuated, including the National Lab where nuclear materials are used and stored.  Though thousands of acres of beautiful forest were burned, all structures were protected by the amazing work of these firefighters, and Los Alamos was reopened to residents last week.  The road between there and here was also just opened and I made my first drive through the fire zone.  It was an emotional thing.... Blackened sticks and scorched hillsides look more like a moonscape than the beautiful woodlands that stood there.  Because any access to the forest is completely forbidden (we can't even walk on the trails near our house) and rangers were ticketing folks who stopped along the highway to get out and take pictures (yes, they are THAT serious about "no access") I did not stop and take photos.      Bandelier National Monument, where there are ruins of ancient cliff dwellings of the pueblo culture, is 95% burned.  All so very sad, and nothing will be the same in our lifetime, or our children's lifetime, or even their children's lifetime. I couldn't take photos, but here  is a link to some amazing shots of the fire and the work of these brave men and women who literally put their lives on the line out there, trying to not only stop the fire but also protect the many cultural and historical structures that abound.

We have been on the southwest corner of the fire, and I could stand on my deck and see flames.  Due to prevailing winds, the fire was creeping slowly in our direction, but finally made a run up the mountain behind us, and the crews went in with everything they had I believe to stop it.  We have been under "ready, set, go" warning ever since the fire started.  Important documents, pictures, hardrive of the computer, etc. are in the car, we have a bag packed.  Many folks evacuated voluntarily.  Due to the nature of our small housing development, (only one road in and out, and no fire hydrants, and surrounded by dry pine forest) if the fire ever did make it into our valley, there would probably be no way to save the homes.  We have had tanker trucks parked in the pasture, ready. At one point, huge embers were falling all around, and firetrucks from Albuquerque roamed the neighborhoods for hours, because any tiny spark had a 100% chance of starting a flame. It is that dry.
Until last night.  We got RAIN!!!! Blessed, slow, gentle rain!!! hallelujah!!  The monsoons should have started weeks ago, but we are so grateful for any moisture now.  Of course, now we are under flash flood watches, because the badly burnt soil is more water resistant than pavement.  There is still a chance that the fire, now trying to skirt around south of us, could get away and the prevailing winds would then bring it right back up the ridge to us, but I am fairly confident that they will contain it. They are doing a good deal of back burning to prevent the spread, but the terrain is quite difficult in the canyons and hillsides and it is very dangerous work. They did some aerial ignition and this actually caused some out of control fire for a short time which was eventually contained.  
Cox Ranch plein air sketch

This little plein air sketch was done a few months ago, and it is ground zero of the fire. I walked there one day with my painting gear, if that tells you just how close this is to our house.  Just to the right of where I was standing to paint, a tree fell on a powerline and started the fire.  They were able to save the structures you see, but the hillside behind is charred.  There were a number of cattle and horses which were also saved, thankfully.