At four in the afternoon of June 22, 2012 an unknown arsonist or arsonists started a fire six miles south in Webber Canyon in Southwestern Colorado. No arrest has been made; apparently the fire is still ‘under investigation’. The only information as to ‘persons of interest’ was that by the 23rd, local law enforcement had been on the lookout for a small yellow car with black stripes that was seen speeding northward out of the canyon.
In another of those ironic moments in life, at the time I became aware of it, via a call from a neighbor, I was pasting together this diary to let readers know about federal fire information websites, yada, yada, and ended up live-blogging some of it. By late afternoon the fire was exhibiting extreme behavior, and heading northward toward ranches and small homesteads, being driven by moderate winds out of the south/southwest.
Precipitation since the last winter snowfall had been almost nonexistent, and the sere and strong winds from New Mexico had already caused any unirrigated fields to parch brown too early. Coupled with the many standing dead ponderosa and pinyon pines killed by beetles, the billowing clouds of smoke tinged with orange from tall flames were enough to make local residents’ hearts contract in fear. During the past decade, we have experienced far too many fires on Menefee Mountain on the east side of the canyon. Lightning seems overly attracted to it, possibly to some metal in the rocks.
The firefighting efforts here were hampered by a dearth of air support, as much of the sparse fleet had been diverted to other area fires in much more densely populated areas of Colorado. Incredibly, the dedication and endurance of both federal and local firefighters eventually put it out, and save every residence and barn. According to Inciweb, by the end, ten thousand and change acres burned, including most of the small, but dear to us, mountain.
In the scheme of wildfires in the center of such a nationwide drought, it was a small one. As there will likely be far more fires into October, or even longer, I thought readers might be interested in photographic evidence of this one, before, during and after. But I also wanted to describe the nature of this fire, its characteristics outside normal, more conventional fire behaviors.
Many firefighters apparently come to believe that fire is almost a live being, which isn’t hard to believe, given that they are brave warriors fighting powerful opponents, almost living foes. That it may be fanciful seems obvious, but watching this fire made me almost believe that individual fires have personalities. I’d find myself speaking to it, asking it questions, imprecating it: ‘Lie down, you bastard! Why won’t you sleep through the might like a normal fire would? WTF are you burning downhill???’
Yes, of course conditions led to the fire’s extreme and odd behaviors, but when you’re a little bit bonkers with anxiety, it’s easier to imagine the fire almost exhibits agency as it devours all the fuels in its path that it’s permitted to consume.
These first two shots are Before the fire; I wanted to show you what the vegetation looked like: Gambel oak, juniper, piñón pine, Ponderosa, chapparal, typical southwestern growth near mountainous regions, in our case, the La Plata range.; the second one is my favorite Flintrock, composed of Mesa Verde formation sandstone.
On June 23, the wind switched to east, and drove the fire to the eastern side of the mountain; we were relieved that it wouldn’t be coming straight toward us, and that there were far fewer homesteads on the other side on which it wreak its fury. But then the son of a bitch started coming down the mountain, and that just ain’t what a fire’s supposed to do. The queerness of it even started freaking out some seasoned firefighters.
Not many hours after I took this shot, acting on changing weather conditions predicted by NOAA, the county sheriff hit the panic button, and canyon residents were forced to evacuate (diary here) for the next four days.
Once we were holed up at the wee motel in Mancos, it was hard to get any good shots, partially due to the heavy smoke and particulate matter in the air. At some point the finer white ash turned to larger flakes of black; it literally rained the sticky, nasty stuff; ish.
But that Bastard just wouldn’t quit; wouldn’t even lie down until maybe four in the morning. This shot showed the fire that threatened our place; it was mean as hell, and was the point that we were forced to realize our neighborhood might be lost. And still, by midnight the flames were at least eighty feet in the air, Ponderosa pines torching and screaming like banshees, popping their hand drums, sizzling so loud you could hear it from the motel parking lot. This night photo of Sam Green’s from the Cortez Journal is good; mine’s bad, but I never learned how to take night shots.
Of course they eventually put out the fire (100% containment was announced on July 6). This past Sunday we drove east on our dead end county road to take a few shots of the mountain in its new state; there are pockets of green trees, probably extant because of the slurry dumped on them. Some large trunks are still standing. It’s hard to tell if the rivulets are new or old; some I imagine were from long ago, and carried some large rocks downhill that carved them deeper.
It still retains a stark beauty, especially when the light conditions are in high contrast. In this shot from our front porch, the strong winds that had blown for an hour or two had just quit. It makes Ms. Meneffe look ghostly, shimmering chimerically, as though she could disappear at will, perhaps waiting for another day when it rains, and her small seeds will sprout…and grow…in who knows which new configurations? It’ll be interesting to see her Restoration and Renewal; and I’m hoping for the same for myself and Mr.wd. (We’re tryin’ not to be wackjobs, really we aren’t.) ;o)
(to be posted at kgblogz.com)