Trained firefighters ignite pile-burns to complete
fuel reduction projects, making homes in the forest safer from the
threat of catastrophic fires, such as the Rodeo and Chediski fires.
Nothing gray about fire starting
I re-read the last sentence of the guide book section on “What
to do if lost or injured” again. I cannot believe the statement
is there in print. It reads, “A note of warning: in case of
extreme fire conditions in the forest, making any kind of a fire
could be considered illegal.”
Excuse me. I think that needs to be rewritten. The more accurate
warning should read: in the case of extreme fire conditions in the
forest, making any kind of fire could kill people, destroy property,
and devastate the forest!
I live in the White Mountains of Arizona. I am relatively new to
this area, thus my interest in a guide book to the hiking trails
of the region. I came here to work as a Burn Area Emergency Coordinator,
because five years ago, two people who felt they were in desperate
situations started some fires. It is an action both individuals
The Rodeo Fire, started by Leonard Gregg, and the Chediski Fire,
started by Valinda Jo Elliott, burned together to scorch nearly
a half-million acres of forests and woodlands, destroy almost five
hundred buildings, and cost almost $200 million for suppression,
rehabilitation, and property loss costs.
Elliott trespassed in a closed section of tribal lands without
a permit. She got lost and started a signal fire on a steep hillside,
only a ten-minute scramble from flat clearings and roads that would
have provided safer locations for her fire. While the White Mountain
Apache Tribe took her to court, she has yet to pay a fine or serve
a day of community service.
I check the trail guide, Walking the Edge by Laurie Dee Acree,
for a publishing date: 2004, two years after the Chediski Fire wreaked
havoc in Heber and Overgaard. Since Elliott was “rescued”
and continues to contest her fines, perhaps Acree, a White Mountain
resident before, during, and after the Rodeo-Chediski fire, believes
fire starting while lost should merely “be considered illegal.”
Gregg, a White Mountain Apache Tribal member, was a part-time wildland
firefighter with limited fire experience. Unemployed, in a community
that had a sixty percent unemployment rate, Gregg had limited opportunities
to make money. He did not feel he had any other options but to get
a part time job fighting fire. He wanted a day or two of work, and
lit a fire that he hoped might provide that. Gregg is serving a
ten-year jail sentence and owes $28 million in restitution.
Earlier this month, another firefighter was sentenced for the similar
crime of starting a fire. Van Bateman was not only a full-time wildland
firefighter with extensive experience; he had been one of the key
incident commanders during the Rodeo-Chediski fire. The fires he
started did not destroy homes or devastate vast expanses of forest.
In fact, Bateman recently tried to explain to the public that he
felt his intentions in starting the fires were good. In a story
in the Arizona Republic, Bateman was quoted as saying “I wasn’t
trying to start an arson fire. I was just trying to clean this piece
of country up. . .”
Still, as U. S. Forest Service Southwest Regional Forester Harv
Forsgren wrote in a letter to the Arizona Republic editor, “(Bateman)
set the fires during a time when prescribed burning was not done
because forest conditions were too dangerous. He did not arrange
for other firefighters to manage the fires. He did not report the
fires. He did not stay at the fires to make certain they were under
control.” Bateman was sentenced to two years in jail.
Society defines our relationship with fire. As with any other aspect
of society, that role is often shifting. Forty years ago, any fire
in the forest was generally thought to be a bad thing. Today, fire
is recognized as being a natural process on the landscape.
Starting fires, especially during extreme conditions such as dry
weather and high winds, is not acceptable. The act of starting a
fire evokes the responsibility for that fire, to insure that it
does no harm, and to be responsible for any harm that it may cause.
Like any other citizen, firefighters, who often double as fire starters
for prescribed burning activities, need to cherish this societal
value that we do not start fires during extreme conditions. That
should go for people who are lost or injured as well.
Relying on our legal system to allow a lost individual the right
to endanger others by starting a wildfire seems ludicrous. A better
solution would be to encourage anyone going into the woods to carry
a signal mirror. At least, the authors of trail guides should be
promoting this strategy, rather than suggesting actions that risk
lives and millions of dollars of damage.
Author and forester Mary Stuever welcomes questions
or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Interagency team working on proposals for the
An interagency team is currently conducting an initial analysis
of the east side of the Sandia Mountains for future implementation
of fuel treatment projects north of I-40, west of the forest boundary
near North 14, South of Highway 536 (Crest Highway), and east of
the Crest Trail. The purpose of this analysis is to provide potential
project proposals for this specific area. The project team will
analyze both scientific data from this area and input from interested
parties. Expect to see team members on the mountain doing the forest
studies and possibly contacting some of you through emails, phone
calls, etc. Much of the analysis area is within the Sandia Wilderness.
As most of you know, there is an urgent need to reduce fuel loads
in our mountains to lower fire risk in the communities and bring
back balance to the forests. Overcrowded conditions due to lack
of fire, and insect infestation by bark beetle and Douglas-fir tussock
moth have created a situation where, if a fire did start within
the Sandia Ranger District, we would see devastating effects to
both the resource and the surrounding communities.
For additional information or a final report about the project,
please contact Dana Carter at 281-3304, extension 130.
Paper or plastic?
—ROBIN BRANDIN, BOARD MEMBER, PLACITAS RECYCLING
The question everyone gets asked at the supermarket. The answer
may seem obvious, but is not necessarily. Paper bags are considered
more biodegradable, but on the other hand they are also bulkier
and take up more landfill space. When one is recyclable and the
other is not, that makes the answer easier. The Placitas Recycling
Center was accepting plastic bags until a few months ago as a joint
effort with the elementary school. That program has ended, and there
is currently no market for plastic bags available to the center.
Some merchants still offer collection services for plastic bags.
The Placitas Recycling Center does accept paper bags. However,
space at the center is limited, and it has had trouble keeping up
with the increasing demand from new residents moving into the community.
The Placitas Recycling Association is working with Sandoval County
to increase capacity and service at the center and anticipates improvements
in the future. In the meantime, with the ever-increasing quantity
of recycled materials the center is receiving, the Association is
requesting community assistance in reducing the amount of paper
bags that are being recycled.
The principles of waste minimization can be summed up in three
words, “reduce, reuse, recycle.” The most effective
way people can decrease the volume of waste entering the landfill
is by reducing the amount of waste they generate. The second line
of defense is reusing items before discarding them. Recycling should
only come after those options have been considered. The Placitas
Recycling Center, for example, holds back some packing boxes and
offers them for reuse. Similarly, all polystyrene peanuts brought
into the center are available for reuse.
The same principles can be applied to shopping bags. The best response
to the “paper or plastic” question is “neither—I
brought my own reusable bags.” If the store takes plastic
bags back for recycling, plastic may be a better option than paper.
Another avenue to consider is reusing clean paper bags, for instance
to collect other recyclables or as packaging. If these options are
not workable, the Placitas Recycling Center continues to recycle
paper bags, in addition to other forms of paper, cardboard, aluminum,
and No. 1 and No. 2 plastics (except bags).
The all-volunteer Placitas Recycling Center is located on Highway
165 just east of I-25 and is open every Saturday between 8:00 and
11:00 a.m. New volunteers are always needed and encouraged to sign
up at the center during its operating hours. More information about
the center can be found at www.placitasrecycling.com.
County landfill offers free trash disposal (for
a day) to Placitas, Algodones and Llanito
Sandoval County Commissioner Orlando Lucero said the county landfill
will waive disposal charges for pickup loads of trash for residents
of Placitas, Algodones, and Llanito during community clean-up efforts
on Saturday, July 14.
“People should get rid of that trash now. Free use of the
county landfill is a great opportunity for people to clean up their
neighborhoods, especially in older areas and along our streets and
roadways where trash may have been accumulating for years,”
The Sandoval County landfill is open on Saturdays from 8:00 a.m.
to noon. The standard charge of $4.50 per pickup load will be waived
that day for residents of Algodones, Placitas, and Llanito, but
proof of Sandoval County residency will be required.
Lucero commended Algodones residents Marisol and Raul Aragon and
Lori and Paul Vigil for organizing a volunteer clean-up effort in
their community on July 14. Clean-up volunteers will meet at 8:00
a.m. at the Algodones Elementary School and the effort will end
Similar clean-up drives and free disposal of trash at the landfill
have been held in communities throughout Sandoval County earlier
“We are hopeful that every community in the county will organize
and schedule regular clean-up days throughout the year so that,
little by little, every community will start looking better,”
“Additionally, the County Development staff is working on
possible amendments to our zoning ordinance so that trash cleanup
can be more effectively enforced across all of Sandoval County,”