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Los Alamos Burns: Just Say Now

I grew up in Los Alamos and spend a lot of time there now, taking care of my mother.  I was meaning to write about the big fires: then (2000) and now (2011).  There are some interesting contrasts between the events.  But I simply don’t have the time to spend on it.

Nevertheless, there is a story that I wish someone with the resources and skills could write.   Basic facts about the 2011 fire:  it was the largest fire in the history of the state of New Mexico, and for the first day it consumed one acre every 76 seconds.  A fire moving that fast across the landscape does not consume everything, until it reaches a canyon, at which point it is sufficiently contained that it does burn, baby.  It burns.

Frijoles Canyon in Bandalier National Monument is such a place.  In 2011, it burned.  Fire is always a bit capricious, and there are some areas in the canyon that managed to escape the conflagration.  One such area happened to contain a farm with 9200 pot plants, 10 feet tall, essentially ready to harvest.  The official estimate of the value of the crop (easily disputable, but let’s take them at their estimate) is $9.2 million.  It has been reported that the farmers fought the fire; they burned a perimeter around the crop to protect it.  If they had done this burn anytime before the fire was rapidly advancing, they would have been discovered, and they were not.  This was a huge, fast-moving fire. They were absolutely brave in protecting that crop.  The crop was saved, the farmers survived, and afterward, they got out.

The farm was discovered by fly-over surveillance after the fire, partly because there was some kind of a tarp visible amidst the green island where unburned forest  remained as before, visually protecting the crop. The surrounding area is absolutely black, “like black paint” covering every surface, as one person described it to me.

The authorities report that they observed 2 men, who returned to the site after the fire, and they were able to escape a sudden, multi-agency law-enforcement net.  The canyon walls are reported to slant at 45 degrees, making it a steep hike in and out.  At the site was some kind of a dugout shelter, a watering system, a rifle, a bottle of hot sauce and insecticide, with directions printed in Spanish.  This leads them to believe (I know) that the farmers are part of the “Mexican drug cartel.”

This is the first time a pot farm has been discovered in a National Forest in New Mexico.  It was a substantial off-grid enterprise with few employees.  It was a very big cash crop, even by half.  It may not be the first year the area was farmed.  I am sure they are now reexamining past overhead footage.

I have talked to a variety of people about this story, and I am sure it would be compelling if someone could devote more time to it.  When the National Lab was no longer “at risk,” the national media went away.  But there is a story here.  Just say Now.

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