This last week our region had two traumatic incidents. One showed the best side of people. The other showed the worst.
And somewhere, those two sides cross paths.
When the Ute Park Fire broke out in Colfax County Thursday (May 31), we watched an entire region kick into action. Volunteer firefighters risked their lives, as firefighters always do, to be first on the scene, to keep the flames from spreading.
Cimarron staff and officials stayed at the office with little food and no sleep to field phone calls, help evacuees and share information from firefighters. Other nearby communities opened their doors, their pantries and their hearts to help people who suddenly had to flee their homes as the fire loomed.
Hotels and the NRA Whittington Center provided free accommodations. Everyone came together in an instant to do what was needed in a time of crisis.
A day earlier and 80 miles away, near the tiny village of Dixon, police were investigating a triple homicide. They later caught and charged two men in El Prado with the murders. Based on more evidence they found on surveillance video from the house where the two men and a woman were killed, they also arrested the brother and father of one of the victims for looting the place before calling police to report the murders.
The killings shocked the community, but not the drug paraphernalia police say they found at the house where the murders took place. Several people in the community said they suspected drug dealing was taking place at the residence.
Others said drug abuse in the area is on the rise, but few people want to talk about it openly. On an Embudo Valley Neighborhood Watch site and in social media discussions, it’s apparent a lot of people in Dixon, as in Taos, Questa, Peñasco and hundreds of other rural communities across the United States, know who is dealing drugs and who is battling addiction or both.
In one community, fire briefly changed people’s lives and has, more enduringly, changed a landscape.
In the other, drugs irrevocably changed people’s lives and more enduringly, are changing the social landscape.
In one crisis, communities leaped to the rescue and made sure their neighbors were safe.
In the other, people whisper about the problem but work hard to stay anonymous.
Fire is an easy crisis. It can be battled and met head-on and eventually stopped. It’s easy to convince authorities to throw more money at the problem and stop the flames.
Drug abuse is a much tougher, more complicated crisis. It’s scary to talk about openly and accuse people of dealing drugs for fear our own safety will be at risk.
It’s tough to know how to help addicts if they don’t want to help themselves. It’s hard to convince governments to untie purse strings and come up with the funding to create the long-term residential treatment centers that are vital in breaking addiction’s grip.
Both fire and drug addiction are emergencies that deserve the commitment of neighbors, communities and governments in stopping their spread.
Drug addiction and drug dealing are twin fires burning through our communities.
We must find ways to stop these deadly fires from spreading.