Whether or not it’s “Mother Nature” doing her thing, the fact is that the American West is ablaze, and it’s not going to end for quite a while. It’s early in the so-called ”fire season,” but regardless, the flames are taking their victims as they tear through homes and private lands – and as they do, destroying the lives and hopes of thousands.
The core issue is that California and the West are in the midst of a massive drought, one forecasters do not envision will end for a long time. No rain in the forests means an increased danger of wildfires.
The measure of the loss of rain is seen in the dropping level of Lake Mead – long a reservoir for the West – but now, with the level so low, it appears that the states and cities dependent on the Lake Mead water will suffer from shortages they never envisioned. This includes small villages and even the cosmopolitan city of Las Vegas.
But loss of water for cities and towns is only part of the horror we face – the reality is that with the lack of rain, the environment is tinder dry, and one spark will set off an inferno of destruction.
Just as I started to write this piece came the news report of a wildfire that began in Laguna Niguel – south of Los Angeles, along the coast. The flames tore through the area with enormous speed, and as they did, they not only destroyed the foliage, they destroyed homes – million-dollar homes, as though they were pieces of parchment.
Barely had the early reports of the fire been sent out, they told of more than 20 multi-million-dollar homes totally destroyed and 11 damaged. And those were just the first reports. Fortunately, there were no reports of injuries, but the effect of these physical losses on families is hard to estimate.
Officials say that the fire burned at least 200 acres and led to more than 100 evacuations – the fire fed by fierce winds. At this point, there is no report on the original cause of the fire.
It’s not the first time this area has burned. Last year, a fire tore through 154 acres, and in 1990, 16,000 acres were blackened with 4,000 homes destroyed.
It makes you wonder why people keep returning to the same area to live after they have gone through such terror and endured such losses.
California is not the only area of the West going through such infernos, New Mexico is now in the midst of the worst fires in the country. In fact, it’s the largest wildfire burning now, and while it started in the wild country, it’s burning toward communities and resort towns in northern New Mexico.
The flames are spreading more than 50 square miles a day in parched landscapes, presenting terrible problems for firefighters, both in water and access.
Again, this area was terribly burned before – some 10 years ago, flames ripped through the community of Ruidoso, the most destructive wildfire in New Mexico’s recorded history. More than 240 homes burned and nearly 70 miles of forest were blackened by a lightning-sparked blaze.
At this point in the current conflagration, more than 300 homes have burned, two people killed and more than 5,000 evacuated.
Reports are that the cost of fighting these fires in New Mexico have reached more than $65 million so far with more than 1,800 firefighters on the line.
A federal disaster has been declared due to the blaze, but there is a controversy brewing as to the role of the feds in the fire. It appears that they set a preventative fire set in early April that escaped containment. The flames merged with a separate fire, and as of this week, the perimeter of the fire stretched more then 356 miles.
The governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, and others say that the feds need to accept liability for their role in the fire damage.
Another aspect of the fire is the threat to the Los Alamos National Laboratory. This is a facility where nuclear research is conducted. In addition to the threat to the lab is the danger to the nearby town of Los Alamos, which is under orders to prepare for evacuation, if necessary.
The National Weather Service has issued red flag fire warnings for most of New Mexico as well as for the states of Nevada, Arizona, Colorado and Texas. There already are terrible fires burning in those states as I write this.
It’s difficult to imagine how all this will end. After all, it’s only mid-May, and the worst of the summer heat has hardly begun. I live in California, and I admit that every time I hear a fire truck, I almost panic.
I know how dry the area around where I live is and that all we need is a random spark to set off what could be a horrific conflagration. When I see cigarette butts dropped along the hiking trail I use daily, it makes me furious! Those idiots who do that need a good beating. And a jail term.
Other than that, I just pray that it will rain, and maybe we will all be safe from the danger of the annual Western fire threats.
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