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  • Largest-ever wildfire in New Mexico burns houses, other structures, and hiking trails.

    Hermits Peak wildfire.
    Hermits Peak in the Pecos Wilderness is a dramatic sight as you drive on I25 from Albuquerque north to Denver. A great gash appears, like the mountain was sliced with a gigantic knife. The Peak sits close to the El Porvenir river in Figure 1 below.

    The Hermits Peak fire was started by a prescribed burn on April 6, 2022.

    This is hard to believe — because in 2000 a prescribed burn got away and led to the Cerro Grande fire in the Jemez mountains of New Mexico. 400 families in Los Alamos lost their homes to this fire, and some structures of the Los Alamos National Laboratories were damaged. It was estimated the fire cost $1 billion.

    It seems obvious, but surely the handlers have several backup preventive controls to make sure a burn doesn’t get out of control – a prescribed burn should always be fail-safe. Making apologies after a fire like Hermits Peak gets going just doesn’t cut it.

    The Hermits Peak fire then merged with the Calf Canyon fire — which started on April 19 although the cause is not known. The combined blaze has grown to almost 300,000 acres, or 465 square miles, on May 16.

    It is now the largest-ever wildfire in New Mexico. It is also the largest wildfire in the US today. The fire has destroyed almost 600 structures and over 170 houses. Thousands of people in over 15,000 homes have been ordered to evacuate.

    This dreadful fire is only 27% contained, even though 2000 firefighters from across the US have been battling the blaze day and night.

    Figure 1. Hermits Peak fire in red. Source: InciWeb.

    Is it climate change?
    Australia had its biggest wildfires in 2019-2020 when over a billion animals were killed. I was in Australia exploring the drought that spawned those fires.

    California now has raging wildfires just about every year. The seven largest wildfires (since about 1950) have all occurred since 2018. The two biggest, the August Complex and the Dixie fires each burned close to 1 million acres and 1,000 structures.

    Wildfires are sensitive to just 1 degree C rise in average temperature. Due to global warming, global temperatures have increased by 1 degree C since 1950. It seems the stage is set for continuing outbreaks of massive fires.

    It’s well known that the Southwest US is in a 30-year drought, and this includes New Mexico. The Rio Grande which flows through ABQ almost dried up in the Fall last year, and in my 15 years here I’ve never seen that before.

    One recent article said the Southwest is in it’s worst drought in 1200 years.

    El Porvenir.
    One of my favorite hikes is along the El Porvenir river at the foot of Hermit’s Peak. I hate to think of what its like now, since it was surrounded by the fire (see Figure 1). This makes me very sad.

    This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is IMG_0052.jpg

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    The Gray Nomad…. Think fondly of past adventures, and be thankful every day.
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    Rejoice always; pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
    [Book of Philippians].


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