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Thursday, June 23, 2022


by Dick Altman

The U.S. Forest Service failed to consider how a changing climate could make the landscape more flammable, didn’t adequately estimate the risk of a controlled fire escaping and used incomplete weather information as a prescribed burn went awry and later formed the largest wildfire in New Mexico history, the agency said in a report released Tuesday. The 85-page report describes how federal fire managers, who felt under pressure to complete the prescribed burn while they had the available personnel, made miscalculations and overlooked warning signs—including low humidity, the potential for erratic winds on complex terrain and the heavy, dry fuel loads that could stoke a runaway fire. Although crews followed the burn plan, it contained flawed and incomplete analyses, and some guidelines were out of date amid a prolonged drought, the report said. The result: The prescribed burn ignited a wildfire that later merged with another prescribed burn to create the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire, scorching 341,746 acres as of Tuesday and destroying hundreds of homes in a 500-square-mile area. Santa Fe New Mexican, June 21, 2022. Photo: Hot shot crew members keep an eye on a blaze June 15 as fire crews ignite the underbrush in an effort to contain the Pipeline Fire near Flagstaff, Ariz. (Rachel Gibbons/Arizona Daily Sun/AP via The Washington Post)

Northern New Mexico

Sixty days of flame—
and I watch the sky
as a sailor watches the sea—
for signs in color and wind
and heading—to tell me
how even the air tires
of hefting its load of ash—
of remains of homestead
and livestock—tall-pine
forest—tractor and pickup
Until you’ve seen
a high plains landscape
scorched into a nightscape—
a contagion of char—
blackness wherever you look—
you don’t realize what a task
to bend language
into a portrait of asteroidal
extinction—a voided canvas
of negative space that may
take nature forever—if ever—
to paint over and fill in
For friends who’ve lost all—
out of fire simmers the future
in a boil of uncertainty—
a rage smoldering in the mind—
no dream fully smothers
How can I with words reseed
generations of struggle—
sow trust that morning ignites yet
with sun’s benign fury—perhaps
not tomorrow—or the next—
but one day—amid sapling
of needle and leaf—short
grass prairie fed upon
by mother and calf—fields
you begin again to recognize
as the only soil you’ve worked—
and wept over—since you were
Dick Altman writes in the high, thin, magical air of Santa Fe, NM, where, at 7,000 feet, reality and imagination often blur. He is published in Santa Fe Literary Review, American Journal of Poetry, riverSedge, Fredericksburg Literary Review, Foliate Oak, Blue Line, THE Magazine, Humana obscura, The Offbeat, Haunted Waters Press, Split Rock Review, The RavensPerch, Beyond Words, The New Verse News, Sky Island Journal, and others here and abroad.  A poetry winner of Santa Fe New Mexican’s annual literary competition, he has in progress two collections of some 100 published poems. His work has been selected for the first volume of The New Mexico Anthology of Poetry forthcoming from the New Mexico Museum Press.