Monday, April 4, 2011

New Mexico Burning

A fire burns along Albuquerque's bosque in 2009, only a few miles from downtown.
Usually, it's some idiot who drops their cigarette.

Every couple years or so, we have a late winter and early spring so dry, the state literally goes up in flames. Eleven years ago in May, the entire town of Los Alamos, birthplace of The Bomb and currently home to more nerds per square inch than the lunchroom at MIT, burned right to the ground thanks to a blaze that started off as a simple controlled burn. Within days, 48,000 acres were scorched rotten, 400 homes were reduced to tinder, and the U.S. General Accounting Office ciphered up the damage at over one billion dollars. The fire was so consuming the smoke plume reached all the way into Oklahoma, as shown by a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration photo taken from the air.

Whether from dry lightening or human stupidity, doesn't matter, the end result is all the same. Fire sparks, flames fan, property is destroyed, lives devastated.

Those of us who live in rural places, at the edges of wilderness so overgrown one can hardly walk a forest floor anymore, live with sucked in breath in the months between the time the snows stop and the summer monsoons begin. We're told to make sure to craft a "defensible space" around our properties. To have hoses at the ready, brush cut, and all potential fuels removed from our gutters. To have a meeting spot in mind for our families, and places to go for our animals. Around here, that means more than a dog and cat or two. It means horses and chickens and goats and llamas, too.

And even though we live almost some portion of every year with this nightmare pushing at the edge of our brains, S.B. and I don't really have an evacuation plan. Get dressed, put the dogs and their food in the Jeep, a shotgun on the floor, the pistols in the glove compartment, and . . . what else? The photo albums? My father's paintings? My jewelry? The computers?

S.B. jokingly said to me last night, "If our house burns down, then can we move to Georgia? How about Tulsa?" For some reason, that pissed me off, and I told him not to bring that bad juju down on our heads. But then it got me thinking . . . if life as we knew it was about to go up in smoke, what would we do? In the technicolor quick fire flash of panic, when life is on the line and property threatened, what from my and our former life would I absolutely take with me to help navigate impending disaster? I have no idea.

What would YOU take?


Pam said...

I had this discussion recently with that British guy after wildfires consumed many homes and acres around our area. Give me tornadoes any day ... I know how to survive those. Anyway, my theory is insurance. That's why you have it ~ to rebuild in case something like a fire or a tornado happens. And don't become so attached to your things that you can't replace them if needed. And this is why I need to get started on my photo scanning project, so that I won't feel compelled to grab old photo albums as I run out of a burning house. BTW, plenty of grassfires up around Tulsa this year also. Dry dry dry here. Farm ponds are in sad shape this year. Can't wait for rainy season even if it does mean a few tornadoes. Get your plan together, it really does make you feel better about things.

Oh, the rest of our conversation was about being refugees. I don't plan on being one. Ever.

Anonymous said...

I went the other route with wall safe, gun safes, and a heavy-duty storage cabinet. I can make the latter two MORE heavy duty and water-proof in about two hours. They're already fire-resistant.

All I'm taking with me is what's in the emergency supplies kit.

Jenny said...

Troll makes a good point about a fire proof safe. But, while that's good for important papers, what about your father's painting, clothes, etc. Water and Fire, they are nothing to mess with. I think when you're worrying about personal safety as in YOURS, material things don't matter.... but..... I'd probably be the person who dies from going BACK into my burning home to rescue a piece of art/etc. Not smart.

I'm sorry you have to worry about this right now and I truly wish I could send all of our rain down to you. So, do you two have plan? Would you have much notice? Enough to fill up two cars and bolt?

moi said...

Pam: I think I saw on the news yesterday that you all are in for some severe weather. Hopefully that will mean some rain.

Troll: We have a large, fireproof safe that holds all our important papers, and other, uh, stuff, so that's not the worry. The worry is, what do we take that isn't in the safe and that insurance won't cover?

Boxer: Yeah, I'm that kind of person, too, and I know it's not a good way to be. However, I have decided I will at least grab Edwina :o).

Bretthead said...

I'd take with me a positive outlook, a new adventure attitude and a passport.

Karl said...

Good morning Moi,

Since I have the ability to move my home out of harm's way. And have done so several times. I look at it a little differently, what can I do to be self sufficient. I carry enough fuel to run the generator for a month and enough water for two weeks without rationing.

So if you can't move would you do to protect yourself? Can you clear the combustibles from around your property? How about fire suppression? The place we have our garden, I have three of these I use them for irrigation. (No other water supply) They're filled from the downspouts off of the roof, if a sprinkler system was mounted on the roof and tied into the irrigation pump, the water could recycle for quite awhile. Likely long enough for a brushfire pass around the building.

For large items, what about digging a tornado shelter. Stowe them and go.

There are lots of ways to deal with this the important thing is that you don't put yourself in harm's way. Have a rehearsed plan and stick to it.

moi said...

WTWA: Also, donuts. I bet you'd take some donuts.

Karl: My entire property is combustible—two acres of trees and brush. Our defensible space around the house isn't likely to stop much and there's only one way in and out of here. So it's highly unlikely we'd stick around to battle the blaze.

Karl said...

Now that I understand your situation better, I will back up to using a tornado shelter. You could dig one into the ground add a watertight door and you would have a safe spot for your large valuables like your father's paintings. As long as you had a enough time to move everything.

In Oklahoma, they're built into the floor of the garage, probably a hard retrofit. You're close enough to Los Alamos that you could put it alongside the house and call it a bomb shelter, it might be considered trendy.

What ever you do, don't get so hung up on your belongings that you get caught in a fire. I would miss you, alot.

Buzz Kill said...

I'm glad I don't live on the frontier. Other than building a fireproof closet, I've got nothing.

As an aside, I was just talking to a friend this morning who was driving through New Mexico (on his way to Phoenix) and he couldn't believe how cold it was (30s). He had stayed overnight in Oklahoma where the temps were in the 90s.

And is it just me or does everyone want to see where Karl lives? Houseboats, plastic tanks, changing cell phone SIM cards...I think he's a secret agent.

Karl said...

@Buzz: Yeah houseboats are so stealthy and secret. They have a radar signature roughly equivalent to a small freighter.

The secret to the water tanks, the county won't let me have a well because there's another well on the property. Doesn't matter that it's 1/4 mile away. Bureaucratic jerks.

I've explained the sim card. Gee whiz, You guys need quit watching so much television.

Jenny said...

@Buzz *high five, Pal!*

I totally agree. And the more he denies it, just makes me believe it even more.

moi said...

Karl Aw, that's sweet of you to say :o) And you know what? I like your bomb shelter-esque idea. Of course, we'd need some mighty strong earth-moving equipment to do it. When we put in our swim spa four summers ago? The contractor took a piece of granite the size of a VW bus out of the ground. Still . . . not a bad idea.

Buzz: Dude, New Jersey is just a frontier of another kind. And for the longest time, I thought Karl was CIA. Now, I just think it's time for a party at his house.

Boxer: See above. Bring vodka.

Sharon Rudd said...

Yikes, if a disaster were to head this way with short notice, I’d probably be too stunned to contemplate what to take. I would be focused on how and where to get to safety, then figure out how to pick up the pieces after. When Cindie’s house and her parents’ were victims of the ’97 flood, the thing they regretted losing most was old family photos. So that photo scanning idea sounds like a good one. I guess it’s a question of what you’d most miss that is truly irreplaceable, despite insurance. But your own safety and that of your animals have to be at the top of the list. Stay safe, and stick around! Although the notion of having license to reinvent one’s life elsewhere does hold some charm . . .

Kymical Reactions said...

My husband went the route as Troll, and we have a massive gun safe, mostly filled with guns, and my grandmothers jewelery, and important papers. But that being said, I don't know what I'd do if everything else was lost. What DO you save? How do you quickly, in a moments notice, determine what you take and what you leave behind? Ack. I don't want to make that kind of decision, ever.

(two hours southwest of Tulsa ain't a bad place to hang your hat, btw.:))

moi said...

Eggy: I think starting over with a blank slate does hold a certain appeal. Not only geographically, but in other ways as well. If you woke up tomorrow, and everyone you knew suddenly forgot who you were, who would you BE?

Kym: Nope, not a decision I ever want to make. There's a lot to recommend Oklahoma. The only thing not to recommend it is lack of mountains. And tornadoes are pretty freaky, but then again, we have gale force winds here—this weekend, we watched 60 mph winds toss and turn our pine tress like beach grass.

czar said...

I remember when we evacuated North Florida in '99 (or maybe '98) fleeing a massive hurricane that never hit but snarled traffic in every direction for 16 hours. Loaded up the SUV with two kids, three dogs, a cat, a few family photos, all the artwork we could grab off the walls, and some other crap. I remember thinking we'd probably be in worse shape if someone hit the car.

"Clearing fuel from gutters" is a phrase that does enter my life. Kind of like "raking the roof."

czar said...


*does not enter my life.

And maybe it was two dogs. Maybe had a mother-in-law also. Maybe I should wake up before I write anything.

moi said...

Czar: You don't have gutters on your roof? Or is it that you have other labor in the form of teenage boys?

czar said...

Czar don't do gutters. Or anything involving roofs. For that matter, czar don't do a lot of things. Far as I know, his sons don't either, unless they've developed some useful life skills on their own about which I am unaware.

LaDivaCucina said...

Honey bunny, I've been thinking about you since I read your comment on someone else's blog about the fires (Boxer?) After living in Sydney during bushfire season and Los Angeles, I can certainly relate and it's VERY scary.

Since we moved to Floduh only two weeks before hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma, we DO have a plan in place.

And you have to watch out for insurance companies, they can be bastards. My girlfriend's house burned down and they found a container that said "dolls" on it and accused her of being a druggie and burnt her own house down. Same with a friend with a DUI, came home to a huge leak and water damage and they accused him of being drunk! So, they are not nice to deal with and certainly don't make it easy for you. I've also heard it's hard to get insurance again once you make a claim like that. Anywhoo...

Don't forget about clouds! you can keep important documents on clouds. Keep a back up of your work/computer on a hard drive, much easier to transport and grab.

I also keep an emergency check list on the back of the bedroom door so I don't forget anything. We keep cash on hand too. When hurricane season starts, we keep the gas tank full and luggage handy. And if we had to evacuate, our air mattress, some clothes, prescription drugs and anything else we could fit in a car. Pets, carriers and pet food, meds, kitty litter.

A few years back, we had a fire in our building and I grabbed my jewelry, photo of my mom, kitty and that was it. As we waited for the fire men to give us the all clear, we went and had a burger at a bar across the road. I then realized that I didn't care if it all burned, it's just STUFF. We had me, hubby and kitty, all we needed. And if need be, even photos and people will always live in my memory.

Take care, be prepared to LEAVE and keep us posted. xoxoxo

moi said...

Czar: But I bet you know whether or not the "The" in The New York Time should be capitalized or not.

La Diva: Once I untangle myself from monstrous deadlines, we'll be forming a plan. You gave me some good tips; thanks! But, I have to ask: What about the La Diva Make-up Drawer? It would be such a shame to lose that :o)

LaDivaCucina said...

Moi, I just inherited a bunch of Bobbie Brown and some La Mer hand and face cream for sitting at my friend's house in the morning to let movers in their flat. He works for Estee Lauder, NICE! Not bad for two hours "work," huh? heheh...

moi said...

La Diva: Cool. Estee Lauder is a great company . . . Have you smelled their new summer edition Wild Elixir 'fume? Pretttyyyyy.

czar said...


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