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We were shocked to read the self-righteous, condescending “ViewPoint” column written by Kathleene Parker in Sunday’s paper entitled “Understanding Fire Dynamics.”
While Ms. Parker clearly has knowledge of the fire history of New Mexico, her writing suggests that this knowledge is purely academic, which is where the problems with her piece arise.
She got off to a bad start by questioning when mountain homeowners will “get it.” As mountain homeowners, we find that remark incredibly offensive. We all “got it.” We had cleared and thinned for years, and had large defensible spaces around our homes. Our neighbors did too.
The residents of Cochiti Mesa, Crager Ridge, Hadden Ridge and the La Cueva Volunteer Fire Department did intensive mitigation work, spending days and weeks of their own time to clear and cut, year after year. The National Forest land was not ours to thin and thus was beyond our control.
The Forest Service did some thinning around the eastern, southern, and southwestern perimeter of Cochiti Mesa but not areas north and west where our homes were. The thinning did not slow down the fire, although extensive thinning by homeowners in flat areas on top of Cochiti Mesa may have helped change the wind patterns of the fire somewhat.
Before Ms. Parker passes judgment on landowners, she should come out and see what the fire burned and what did not burn, the reality being a matter of feet between destruction and preservation.
The fact is there is no defensible space that would have protected our homes in this firestorm. The intensity of the fire, the speed of the winds, and the sheer magnitude made this a force beyond what we could have mitigated against.
When we built in the mountains we knew that it was not a matter of if but a matter of when the forest would burn. However, the intensity of this burn could not have been predicted.
If the Las Conchas Fire had started with the same intensity as Cerro Grande in 2000, there would have been plenty of time, at least 12 hours, for everyone to evacuate their animals and belongings. This fire burned our community only three hours after it started. In the first 24 hours, Las Conchas burned as many acres as burned in the entire Cerro Grande fire.
Toward the end of her letter, Ms. Parker reminds us that we should have a plan in place to escape, and safe areas to go to. Obviously, we did have plans in place as every human got out alive.
However, those who weren’t home had no time whatsoever to get any belongings or animals out. The comment that no one was killed was woefully inaccurate. Three beloved horses, housecats, a mallard hen, eight ducklings and countless bears, lions, bobcats, elk, deer, coyotes, rabbits, birds and snakes perished in the fire.
In surveying our damaged properties we have come across many of their remains and cringe to think of how many more are inevitably out there.
Smugly placing blame and explaining to us what we did wrong after the fact is tantamount to pouring salt in a wound and is made more obnoxious because she obviously has no knowledge about our specific situation.
Ms. Parker should get her facts straight, with firsthand information, before she doles out advice. Better yet, she should limit her incoherent ramblings to New Mexico fire history.
Erika and Bill Gorman,