By Steve Klinger
As a newcomer to Santa Fe (though it is the second time around), I’m a little puzzled about how things work up in this neck of the Land of Enchantment.
There is a fire burning in the Santa Fe National Forest. As of 11 am on Sunday it had grown to 900 acres, six miles northeast of Tesuque and nine miles north of Santa Fe. The plume of smoke seen yesterday is back, there’s a red flag warning for virtually the entire state, with winds expected to gust up to 50 mph this afternoon, with sustained winds 25-30 mph. The humidity is in single digits, the forest is bone-dry, a tinderbox ready to ignite, as it obviously has. And though this fire was no more than 5-7 acres when reported, crews were unable to keep it from erupting; containment remains at 0 percent.
But the attitude toward this fire seems to be as ho-hum as if it were a quarter of an acre in the middle of the monsoon. After a front-page story yesterday the New Mexican has nothing new today, in fact nothing on its web site at all, unless you click on most-read stories. Instead, it’s all about Father’s Day, the Buckaroo Ball and the Railrunner Groupon. Television news stations flew their copters over the area, but their reports were basically hearsay and endless repetition. They managed to buttonhole no one in authority and likely would not have known what questions to ask them if they had.
Forest Service officials, according to New Mexico’s official Fire Information site http://nmfireinfo.wordpress.com/2011/06/18/pacheco-canyon-fire-update-6182011-430-pm/ are maintaining Stage 2 fire restrictions for the entire Santa Fe National Forest. Hyde Park Road is closed at the forest boundary and campers in the area are supposedly on alert – but no evacuations and no closure of the forest.
I’m no expert on the moisture content of the combustibles, but there seems to be widespread agreement these are the worst conditions in the state in recent memory. Already crews are stretched thin, and equipment is scattered all over the Southwest as the Wallow Fire continues to spread along the Arizona border and fires burn near Raton, Carlsbad, Ruidoso and Estancia.
I love the opportunity for forest recreation as much as the next guy, but does it make any sense to leave this forest open under these conditions? I realize no structures are threatened as the blaze heads toward the Pecos Wilderness. I understand that Santa Fe thrives on tourism, but is anyone taking the even moderately long view that a forest with thousands of acres of blackened aspens and mixed conifers won’t have much appeal to visitors for a long time to come, let alone for fall colors? What about the wildlife that will die and the watershed that will take years to recover from the major wildfire this is quickly becoming, or a new fire that could start while the forest remains open?
I understand that protected forests build up too much undergrowth and overly dense stands of trees ready to explode in the crown fires that are most damaging and hardest to control. But this does not seem like the time to make amends for overzealous stewardship, when conditions are tantamount to tossing a bag of gasoline-soaked rags into your 120-degree garage.
How about some answers from those who make these decisions? Better yet, how about some questions – the right questions – from those in the media whose job it is to ask them?