Tuesday, July 10, 2012

New Mexico Fire Lessons

Dorothy Hoard
In Los Alamos, New Mexico, there is an organization - The Pajarito Environmental Education Center, known widely as PEEC. It was started in earnest after the horrendous Cerro Grande Fire in 2000 which burned more than 400 homes and put 1400 people in search of a new place to live. At that time, the fire was the largest in New Mexico history, but just last summer in 2011, another fire blew up in the Jemez mountains and swept towards Los Alamos at a fast pace, causing the town to be evacuated. Fortunately, much was learned after the 2000 fire. Back fires were set along major roads which were only possible because of an evening shift in the wind direction. Those back fires prevented the big fire from entering the town. New growth during the intervening eleven years went up in flames. That fire was the largest in New Mexico history, burning approximately twice as much land as the Cerro Grande.

This summer, 2012, a fire started in the Gila Wilderness in southern New Mexico and it is the largest in history, burning about four times the land area of the Cerro Grande.

This past Saturday, I went on a PEEC sponsored hike to see American Springs with naturalist Dorothy Hoard, author and guide extraordinaire. Along the way we could see trees that survived the Cerro Grande standing alone among the grasses. Below them were aspens that had regrown and were about eight feet tall. Last summer they burned again. Now tiny little aspens are a foot tall, growing from the ancient roots of their family, and fed by seeps like American Spring.


Dorothy reflected in the waters of American Spring

The actual spring has a concrete containment built around it, to hold the water in for a while before it seeps on down the hill. The containment was built sometime in the 1930's when a logging company needed water for its operations. Now there is about six inches of water and while it's not accessible to most animals, the larger grazers can put their heads through the hole for a drink. Other small seep puddles are open for the racoons, skunks, and squirrels.

Dorothy knows almost every plant; which are indigenous and which are invasive. She knows the geology of the entire region, and is an encyclopedia of information.

PEEC runs walks, tours, summer camps, and classes for adults and children all year round. Recently the county council agreed to spend four million on a new building to house the program. Up till now, PEEC has been run with donations of money and time, and was housed in an old elementary school building. Having a new expanded facility, which will include a planetarium, will allow PEEC to offer many more adventures in the quest for knowledge.

PEEC's website is here: http://www.pajaritoeec.org/

And of course, continued donations are gladly accepted, volunteers are welcomed.


Some dead trees from Cerro Grande (the sticks) and
some from last years fire (with branches still).

New growth around
last years burned dead aspens.

Portions of forest that survived two devastating fires.

A few Ponderosas that escaped
both fires, and are now "Mother"
trees for the forest.