Living with Wildfires
I grew up in Ohio, the land of green. You simply threw seeds randomly out of your back door and overnight you had a garden. The water table was so high that you had to carefully plan for a basement in your house. It was a world flowing with H2O and was the opposite of where I later moved – Los Angeles.
Los Angeles is really a desert. There’s no two ways about it. You have to spend a lot of time prepping the soil to get it close to fertile. I had some success with herbs and we decided a potted garden was better suited for our little patch of land. (In LA, you can usually jump across your lawn thanks to the high population density.)
When I first came to California, wildfires were completely foreign to me. Tornados were a piece of cake: just listen for the sirens and take shelter. Right after I moved, I heard about a large wildfire near Chatsworth, and rushed to my car. I had to see it! I have no idea why. Maybe it’s genetic?
My grandfather used to pack up the family in the car and take us to see the Ohio River each time it froze. When the entire city of Xenia was sucked up by an F5 tornado we piled into the old Ford. So… off to see the Chatsworth blaze I went.
Over my years in Southern California, we got hit again and again with blazes – some started by nature, others by complete jerks. During my first six months, over 32,000 acres went up in smoke. That is the equivalent of two Manhattan islands! (You can see the degree of burning in this photo taken from space.)
Nothing compares to the fires that swept through Southern California in October of 2007. The Santa Ana winds burned 250,000 acres and 1,200 structures. The damage left 500,000 people homeless. By the time we left California, over two million acres had been lost – or, roughly, the state of Rhode Island.
In January 2010 we relocated to Santa Fe, New Mexico. If you think California sounds fiery, just wait until you see the damage in our new home state. As I write this, there are four fires burning. (For New Mexico fire info.)
Since our arrival flames have ravaged over 625,000 acres. The Las Conchas Fire, one of the worst in the state’s history, occurred last year. It wasn’t just that the fire consumed so many buildings and so much land, but it also threatened the city of Los Alamos. Yes, the home of the U.S. nuclear program. If the flames touched the lab – well, our goose wasn’t cooked. It was incinerated.
Here’s a video so you can see it for yourself:
What do you do in case of a wildfire?
The above links also include suggestions to ensure that your home is protected as much as possible.
I know. You’re shaking your head, thinking, ‘just move.’ But, this is why we live in New Mexico:
Lane & Juliet
The writing and photography team behind Southwest Compass, the travel blog for the American Southwest.