This spring, New Mexico was hit hard by wildfires, and two of them burned through vast swaths of public and private land to the west and east of Santa Fe, where I live. The Cerro Pelado Fire, which at press time had scorched more than 45,000 acres of backcountry south and west of Los Alamos, started on April 22 and is now mostly contained; its origins remain unknown. The fire known as Calf Canyon–Hermit’s Peak, which has made news all over the world, began as two separate controlled burns—both run by the U.S. Forest Service—that broke out and turned into historic disasters. By early June, those fires had covered nearly 320,000 acres, in a part of the state that contains a mix of population centers, most of them traditionally Hispanic, and wilderness areas. The latter fire’s southernmost boundary is just west of the city of Las Vegas, near a mountain called Hermit’s Peak, and extends north in a wide path that’s home to thousands of people living in or near villages like Mora, Rociada, Upper Rociada, Gascon, and Cleveland. This fire is still not tamed, and as of June 8, it had destroyed 880 residences and other structures. (You can get a sense of the location and scale of these fires here.)
Big fires can be hard to make sense of, even from a short distance away, but I learned a lot by following two Facebook pages that I heard about from my friend Dave Cox, a photographer and journalist who lives in Glorieta, New Mexico, where he did volunteer work and took pictures of the enormous smoke plumes generated by the Calf Canyon–Hermit’s Peak inferno. Cox told me about two especially useful sites: the Calf Canyon–Hermit’s Peak Fire Inclusive Support Group and Calf Canyon Hermit’s Peak Fire Legal Resources.
While monitoring them, I read a lot of bad news, obviously: stories of those who lost everything to flames, of the difficulties survivors were facing when dealing with agencies like FEMA, and of widespread rage against the federal government that’s going to play out for years—often in courtrooms—as people seek financial compensation for what they lost.
But there was uplifting information on those pages, too, and by following them, I got a better sense of the immeasurable contributions made by firefighters, volunteers, and concerned citizens from all over the country. Before long, I started coming across amazing tales from a particular part of the fires’ overall narrative: pet and wildlife rescue. With help from Facebook, pet owners, and animal-welfare volunteers, I learned about some incredible creatures who came close to the brink.
Spoiler alert! These stories all have happy endings.
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