A History-Making Blaze
It is over 100 degrees outside. As we are all racing to beat the heat, firefighters in New Mexico are running towards the heat. Since early May, firefighters have been fighting what has grown to be the largest fire in New Mexico’s history. This fire formed when two separate smaller fires merged. It has burned 241,701 acres (97, 813 hectares) killing thousands of trees and burning dozens of cabins. The fire is only 17% contained but U.S. Forest Service officials report that the containment should increase drastically over the next week.
Why and how did it happen?
The fire, that is now being called the biggest in New Mexico’s history, didn’t begin as one fire. Two separate fires, both started by lightning strikes, merged to form the current fire. The Baldy fire started on May 9th in a remote area. The Whitewater fire was reported on May 16th several miles away. On May 23rd, these two fires merged in the Gila (Hee-la) National Forest.
There are many contributing factors that have made this fire so hard to contain. One of the reasons is the drought. A drought is a long period of time without water. New Mexico is prone to droughts since the desert is hot and dry and the rainy season is extremely short. Because of the lack of rain in most parts of the state, fires are very common at this time of year. Winds as high as 50 mph have also contributed to the quickly spreading fire
With a big fire like the one happening in New Mexico, comes smoke. This specific fire is so big that there is a ton of smoke in the air. Children, adults with heart disease, and other sensitive groups are cautioned to stay indoors to avoid health risk. But humans are not the only population effected. Two packs of endangered Mexican grey wolves are also at risk. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is monitoring these packs which are north and east of the fire. Because the wolves are endangered, special care is being taken to make sure they are not hurt by the fire. Finally, the most obvious consequence of the Baldy-Whitewater fire is that the Gila National Forest is being destroyed. About 400 square miles (about 1,035 square kilometers) of wilderness has been burned.
There is never enough credit given to the firefighters who have been working non-stop in extreme conditions of heat and smoke. Currently, 1,236 brave men and women are in Gila risking their lives to preserve the National Forest and ensure the health of New Mexico.
As the old proverb goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Although the Baldy-Whitewater fire wasn’t preventable, nearly 75% of wild fires are. There are many ways to prevent wildfires such as putting out campfires and never throwing cigarettes out of car windows. If every person takes a step towards fire prevention, we can work to ensure that a fire like the Baldy-Whitewater fire never happens again.