Looking south, through the valley, faint wisps of smoke mark the location of the Rincon Fire, which has burned more than 150 acres of the Pecos Wilderness. Turning west, you are met with more smoke, this time from the Poso Fire. Up in the high mountains, near Angel Fire, morning fog has been replaced with all-day smoke.
From a distance, the plumes are intimidating. Up close, they are so much more. Walls of flame that move faster than you can run. Giant, century-old trees, now black, toppling to the ground like boulders. The roar of a forest on fire and the acrid smell of smoke. THIS is the reality for those who battle these blazes everyday. It takes a remarkable amount of courage and strength. But perhaps the most remarkable thing is that firefighters often win these battles.
What can we do to help? Many of us don't have the will to run into the flames or the means to give money.
But there is a way for all of us to say "thank you" to those risking their lives: Be safe. Be responsible. Be firewise.
The Poso Fire was caused by lightning; the cause of the Rincon Fire is still undetermined.
Yet, according to a recent Congressional research report, 88 percent of all wildfires are human-caused. Add to that the fact that 70 percent of all wildfires happen on federally-protected land - something we have plenty of. We have a population that is anxious to get back out into the world and government agencies overwhelmed with visitors - it could be a perfect storm.
The Wall Street Journal examined this phenomenon in a June 14 article, with Utah as its case study. It found that in some cases attendance at national parks is up nearly 20 percent over 2019 numbers. The city of Moab, Utah, was overrun with visitors. Some parks closed their gates. One result was a massive, human-made fire, which is quickly spreading across the Utah desert.
Now New Mexico parks are reopening. Our shops are bustling. Our restaurants are cooking up the good stuff again. And the allure of Taos is already making its way into the hearts and minds of future summer tourists planning their trips around whitewater rafting, and Rainbow Gatherings, and Los Lobos concerts.
With all that is going on this summer, the tendency will be to cut loose and go wild. But before we do, let's think of the men and women out there fighting to save our beloved forests and parks. Keep them in mind before you decide to drop the COVID-caution and get reckless.
And for crying out loud, make sure your campfire is all the way out, that you are careful with cigarettes, sparks from vehicles and anything else that may start a disastrous fire.
For information about wildfires currently burning in your area, or to find out what the recommended fire-wise guidelines are for the State of New Mexico, visit newmexico.gov.