In July 2011 on a Sunday afternoon the Las Conchas Fire Incident erupted on the north side of our much beloved Jemez Mountains.
Within a single hour, the downed power line and spark has become an inferno so hot that our local Pena Blanca and Cochiti Volunteer Fire Fighters could not come closer than half a mile without, as one volunteer, Les Harrison put it “Feeling like we just stuck our heads into an oven”.
Flames crowned and jumped from ridge to ridge until, that same day, there was only news of “the fire in Los Alamos” (miles away, this city and it’s National Laboratory, commanded the true concerns of everyone). Our own neighborhood, Cochiti and Bland Canyons burned the hottest and the fastest and many recreational properties and a few primary residences were lost, along with the delightful structures, nearly a hundred years old, of our “Dixon Apple Orchard”, though many of their fruit trees were saved through the efforts of our fire volunteers and the Mullane-Dixon family.
Four weeks of fire fighting by the professional “Type I” teams followed and, now the last week of July, the BAER reclamation forestry teams are still hard at work. The biggest concern now for our Pena Blanca, Sile, Cochiti and Santo Domingo communities is flash flood danger from the sparse, but quick summer thunder showers that are expected. This week, the arroyos ran thick and coal-black with rain run-off bearing the ash from our once-beautiful canyons.
The Rio Grande is blackened by this ashy water and fish are dying. There is threat to farmland on the west side of the river should there be even a one-inch rain ( there were two of these last summer, even in that “drought year”).
In the midst of these troubles, The Pena Blanca Sunflower Project went ahead with its pilot field: a half acre in Pena Blanca. “Out of these ashes, beauty will rise” !