Friday, June 8, 2012

Citizen's Dispatch: Burning Up!

At the moment there are three wild-fires ablaze in the mountains of New Mexico. The big one is the so-called "Whitewater-Baldy" fire in the Gila Wilderness, over on the west-southwestern region of the state. As of June 7, at around 3 pm, the fire had consumed around 270,000 acres, an area about eight times the size of Manhattan Island. At the beginning of the day there were almost 1,000 fire-fighters on the job, including 13 hot-shot crews and 7 hand-crews. A fleet of 10 helicopters are dumping water and retardant; they are joined by 40 fire engines, 27 water tenders (water tankers, basically) and 5 Dozers.  The weather has been more cooperative, as the winds which were spreading the fire, have diminished substantially. There is NO precip now or in the immediate future. This fire, which was caused by lightning and was first reported in mid-May. has been burning for about three weeks, and is said to be about 30% contained.

Meanwhile, since June 4, there have been no fewer than six additional outbreaks of new fires around the State, mostly in the northern sections. The most notable, as of June 7, according to the official State reports,  was the "Bear Springs" fire, located 6 miles NE of Ponderosa, NM, in the Jemez Ranger District, on the edge of the Santa Fe National Forest.  As June 6, the fire is 580 acres (330 acre increase), 75% contained (65% change).  It was occupying the efforts of 192 personnel (4 Type 1 crews, 3 Type 2 crews, 3 engines, 2 Type 1 helicopter, 1 Type 3 helicopter, 2 water tenders, 2 dozers). It's burning in difficult terrain, with a lot of fuel; it was reported June 2, with an expected containment date of June 15, sooner if weather cooperates and brings some rain.

Then, yesterday, a new blaze was reported in the foothills and mesas of the scrub lands and low forests west of Santa Fe. It's called the "Colorado Peak" fire, and its cause is officially under investgation, since there hasn't been any lightning around lately. It's at about 300 acres, and is "Zero percent" contained, as of sundown yesterday. Over 150 personnel are engaged in this one: 3 Type 1 crews, 4 Type 2 crews, 5 helicopters, 3 engines, 2 dozers. The fire folks rate its growth potential as "high" due to the difficulty of the terrain and the plenitude of fuel.

New Mexico has a long history with fire, management and prevention. You may know that America's first fire-prevention mascot, Smokey, the Bear, was found--rescued, actually--after a fire in New Mexico's Capitan Mountins in the Lincoln National Forest, in 1950. The cub had scaled a tree to escape and was injured, and was unable to climb down. A group of soldiers, brought in from Ft. Bliss to help mop up the fire, found the stranded cub, climbed up, retrieved him and brought him back to their camp where he was originally called "Hotfoor Teddy" by the troops who rescued him .

From there, Smokey's story leads to Santa Fe, where New Mexico Department of Game and Fish Ranger Ray Bell, his wife Ruth, and their children, Don and Judy, cared for the cub for some months. Soon the story got out, and the wire services were suddenly full of the ursine survivor. Well on the road to recovery, Smokey soon made his way to the National Zoo, in Washington, where he was ensconced in his own special area, cooed and fussed over, cosseted and loved by all. Smokey passed in 1976, at the age of 26. There's a lot about him, pretty much everywhere you look. He's one of the most recognized icons in US culture, being identified readily by around 95% of people, and recognized also as one of the most powerful and enduring "public service images" in the world.

New Mexico and New Mexicans along with our visitors have gotta be careful. Just about the whole state is under Stage One restrictions, which means: NO building, maintaining, attending or using a fire, campfire, charcoal, coal, or wood stove, except within a developed recreation site, or improved site; no smoking except in closed vehicles, buildings or developed campsites, and no fireworks or firearms discharges.

If you want more information or want to follow the progress of the fire season here in the land of enchantment, go to www dot n m fire info(one string) dot org.

Remember, hippies, and I mean this without IRONY of any kind: Only YOU can prevent forest fires.

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