Hannah Nordhaus’s paternal grandfather bought land for sawmill in the 1890s. The land was 10 miles from his home in the small town of Las Vegas in New Mexico; Where he had a business selling horse-drawn carriages on the Santa Fe route.
But when he went to the river valley and saw the ancient yellow pines and green plains that led to the granite mountain Hermits courier (Hermits Peak) was ending, he decided to build a house on the land he had bought.
When the Nordhaus family learned of a fire near their land in April, they convened a meeting to discuss the future of the site. They now own three houses and 280 hectares of forest.
On April 6, a deliberate fire broke out at the Hermits Peak base, which was ironically built to protect the area’s grounds from fire. During these 130 years, no fire has ever been so close to their lands.
Fortunately, the Hermits Peak fire moved northeast and was completely contained by April 19.
But some time later a new fire, the Calf Canyon, was lit west of Hermits Peak. The two fires merged and the houses in the Hermits Valley, where Charlie, a relative of Hannah, lived, were evacuated.
On April 28, the winds changed direction and intensified, sending fire into the valley. A number of Charlie’s relatives went to the homes to help him unload valuable and memorable items.
When fire becomes ordinary
The Canyon Fire was Hannah Northhouse’s fifth firefight in recent months. The first fire broke out just before the New Year at his residence in Boulder, Colorado, 640 kilometers above Hermits Peak.
Marshall Fire burned 1,084 homes in just six hours. The fire spread so quickly that people fled their homes without picking up their phones and laptops, the children were still in their comfortable clothes, and all their photo albums, memorabilia and documents were left behind. Those outside the house could not even return to save their pets.
The second fire broke out in late March in the hills north of Boulder. This time people were able to return to their homes and take out their valuables. The townspeople returned to their homes after a few hours.
The third fire started a few days later – from the hot ashes of the second fire. This wind, like the first fire of Hermits Peak, drove the fire away from the city.
But winds can not always blow in people’s favor – and eventually and inevitably change direction. Eventually the earth, which has dried up and is full of fuel from a century of fire suppression, will burn. This is what is happening in the American Southwest today.
“These fires do not take anyone by surprise,” says Craig Allen, a natural landscape ecologist in New Mexico. “We have been in a drought cloud for 23 years.”
Nearly every 50 years, the American Southwest enters a long period of drought – the last bad drought in the 1950s. But long drought clouds like this are much rarer.
One of these droughts occurred in the 13th century when the people of Pueblo fled Four-cornered valleys (Four Corners canyons). The current drought is worse than that. According to the history of the tree ring, the last two decades have been the driest period at least 1,200 years ago.
Due to the warmer climate, temperatures are higher – winters are shorter, snow falls later in the fall and melts earlier in the spring. Warmer air also removes more moisture from the soil, snowdrifts and plants. “Burns are drier and fire behavior is more explosive,” says Allen.
Add the unnatural winds of spring to the hell we see in northern New Mexico.
From April 6 to May 12, the National Weather Service issued red warnings; During the 26 days of this 36-day period, there was a risk of fire, with winds reaching speeds of up to 110 kilometers per hour.
“I have never seen a forecast like this, or even close to it,” said John Pendergrast, a fire forecasting specialist with the National Weather Service.
According to Hannah Nordhaus, the Forest Service posted live fire-related updates on its Facebook page every morning at 9:30 a.m. and again at 6 p.m.
Every night, the team of reporters showed the fire environment on a map, and from “fuels” (trees, shrubs, grass) and “values” (houses, outbuildings, electric poles), explosions and “bulldozers” and “traps” – somewhere That they were burning the flames between the fire and the control lines – they were talking.
They also talked about protecting structures – moving lumps of wood, removing pine needles from roofs and gutters, installing sprinklers around houses.
Sometimes, if conditions allowed, firefighters could stay and direct the flames around the structures. Sometimes they did not have time for anything.
Meteorologists spoke of frightening and powerful winds, and instructed on how to move fire (fast on the grass, slow on the timber; fast up and slow down). And how frogs can fly at high altitudes, cross restraint lines, and create new fires miles away.
Nordhouse One Days Heat GIS map Was checking. This map showed infrared flight data and identified the heat detected by two satellites with red triangles and orange squares. On May 1, he saw a map and realized that their fields were under fire.
The place of wishes
Hannah Nordhaus recalls her childhood memories and playfulness in the fields and rivers around the house. He got married in this house, his father’s ashes are buried in these fields and now his children play in this house like him.
This place is very valuable for him and his family. But they live somewhere else. Many of their neighbors’ ancestors came to Hermits Peak with the Spanish conquerors and remained there.
They have a unique Spanish dialect that has developed over the centuries into independent life in remote valleys on the northern edge of the Spanish Empire. This dependence on the context there has its own name: Krensia (querencia). This word means the place of wishes; Where you feel safe and belong.
“Our ties to this land are sacred and deep,” Police Chief Max Trujillo told his fellow citizens in northern New Mexico one day during the fire. We Nortenio We are (north). “We are this land.”
Some neighbors have lost everything; Many of them do not have insurance or their insurance is not enough.
Allen, who saw one of the first major fires of the drought cloud in 2000 in the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico, an area just hours west of Las Vegas that caught fire again this spring, said: “The sudden change in these places is horrific. . »
Leroy Miller y Romero, a neighbor who had volunteered in the valley as a volunteer firefighter, returned to their homes after the Canyon Fire broke out on May 1.
Two or three days earlier, the fire had reached his farms north of Northhouse. He stayed to keep his houses moist, until ashes began to fall from the sky and firefighters forced him to leave.
He told Hannah that he had never seen anything like this in his life: “I thought fire could never make a sound, but it was as if a freight train was approaching us. “The fire is roaring at the bottom of the valley.” His house remained intact; But some of his neighbors do not.
“Some of these lands look like the moon,” he says. “There is nothing left but pieces of wood and burnt earth.”
Miller E. Romero and other firefighters thought the rolling-house houses, covered in cedar timber and on top of a downhill fire, had no chance of surviving.
But they were still lucky. Firefighters dampened the houses and removed weeds from the area. The flames engulfed the house, burning a barn and several outbuildings, a water tank and pipes, and most of the forest cover of the riverbed.
Forty-two electricity poles caught fire in the valley. The power company could not even estimate how long the power recovery would take. The area never had cell phone coverage – but now telephone lines are gone.
The fire burned the fields to pieces. At one point the ground is blackened, at another point the green grass remains intact.
A number of giant yellow pines – such as those saved by Hannah Nordhaus’s grandfather 130 years before they were cut – were intact, while some burned to the crown. Some had only their lower torsos blackened.
These trees will probably survive. Maybe the Nordhaus family will be among them this summer or next summer. And perhaps these trees will become the fuel for the next fire that will inevitably engulf the valley – soon, perhaps in the next decade or generation.
“There are a lot of people who can’t sleep right now,” says Miller. “They smell the smoke and ask where the smell comes from.”
Fire changes everything. According to the latest estimates, the fire spread to an area of 120,000 hectares, evicted tens of thousands of people from their homes and burned about 600 homes. Two more large fires are currently raging in New Mexico.
Hannah Nordhaus thinks people in this valley, and all over the southwest, will always be on the alert from now on.