Monday, May 2, 2011
Mag 64 - The Cinco de Mayo
On May 5th, Cinco de Mayo, in 1996 the Hondo Fire broke out in San Cristobal, New Mexico. Conditions had been extremely dry with high winds but a local resident left a burning trash fire to go to the local bar and have a few on the Mexican holiday. Within hours after the Hondo Fire started the neighboring town of Lama was burned through. Some structures remained, but many were destroyed. Families in nearby Red River and portions of the town of Questa were evacuated.
Before this incident was over, about 2,000 individuals were displaced or evacuated from their homes, and portions of some highways were closed to all but local residents and fire traffic.The fire set a ground speed record of 9 miles in 30 minutes without crowning. That record has yet to be beaten. I watched the flames and plumes of smoke in horror as the fire rushed to within a half mile of my house. And for the next 22 days I was immediately awake anytime I smelled smoke or sensed a shift in the wind for fear a smoldering Ponderosa Pine spar would spark and the forest would be again in flames.
I was back again recently to Questa and the scar on the mountain remains. The fire burnt so hot that the earth was scorched three feet down. Reseeding efforts in slurry dumped from the fire fighting planes has not done much. And all because a resident wanted a few beers in honor of the Mexican Revolution.
I will never forget those 22 days on the edge of the smoldering mountain before the Forest service announced the fire was truly out. I watched the smoldering hills, counted the pets over and over, and checked on the pile of items by the door in case we had to evacuate. I was surprised to find the pile grew smaller. And the realization that one of the "precious items" I would not take was my husband. We agreed to divorce that summer and I moved to the "wet side" of the mountain on a piece of land that had no trees. To this day when the wind is high and the forests around me dry I stare into the sky on the lookout for smoke and like a wild animal sniff the wind for that all too familiar smell.
Don't wish me Happy Cinco de Mayo.