Gutpunched

It was like a fierce punch in the stomach. Only worse.
I hadn’t driven the road to Douglas in over three weeks, so I wasn’t expecting it. But today, I headed toward the College, and when I came out of the mountains, my eyes cut to the northeast, and there it was: the fire.
I know a fire has been raging in the Chiricahuas for about five weeks now. I see the pictures on the nightly news. Still, I was unprepared.
So it punched me, hard.
I screamed when I saw it. I screamed so much I had to pull over, and then I moaned. I moaned like a woman who had just found her child dead in the streets. I screamed and moaned until I had almost no voice left and my throat was raw.
Then I sat. Breathing, breathing. Eventually I could go on.
It’s a terrible thing to see a place you love dearly in the midst of disaster. My thought flew to people in the Midwest who have been watching their towns destroyed by tornadoes. In some way, I knew exactly how they felt.
No, the Chiricahuas aren’t my home. But I have been going to those mountains for nearly forty years. I have been in many of her canyons, wandered her streams, slept snugly in her valleys and hills. I’ve seen the trogon, the gray fox, and the coatimundi. I’ve picnicked, swum, hiked. I’ve taken students and visitors to see her beauty. I’ve lunched in the café in Portal and spent time in Paradise.
And now those places are burning up.
Firefighters have been there since shortly after the fire’s inception. It is human caused, though how it actually began is unknown. A cigarette tossed from a car window? A hot muffler on brittle, dry grass? Arson? Any of these could be the reason. Many locals, however, blame migrants for leaving a campfire when they fled the Border Patrol. This rumor remains, and it grows.
One resident is even quoted as saying, “To say that illegal aliens didn’t set the fire is like saying that Neil Armstrong didn’t walk on the moon.”
Set the fire. Not even started the fire. This man explained that in order to escape the Border Patrol, a group of migrants started the fire to distract their pursuers so they could run away. No matter there is no record of a chase, and no matter the Border Patrol didn’t report the fire.
All other recent fires  in Southern Arizona (seven major ones burning right now) have been started by US citizens. One was started by someone  out target shooting and another by US military training exercises. A third was started by a man who was welding.
At this point I am less concerned about how the fire started than I am how it will be put out. What matters is a place I love is being destroyed, more and more acres every day, every minute in fact. Over 80,000 acres have burned, and it’s only a few miles from the sweet community of Paradise. Residents have just been ordered evacuated.
Like the residents of Portal and Paradise, I could not bear it if these towns are destroyed.

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3 Comments

  1. I thought it was under control! I have been working non-stop the last two weeks so I was out of touch. I am so sorry, I didn’t live so long there but I loved all the places I had the opportunity to visit.

    Reply

  2. I saw the plume as I departed two weeks ago. This is one of my favorite places in the world. Elegant Trogans and hummers from Mexico see no where else in the US … people come from around the world to see these magical creatures. The world’s gone berserk.

    Reply

  3. OH! OH! Emilie! Now that I’m no longer there, I didn’t even know! Another terrible loss! Dreadful… heart breaking…

    Reply

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