The Pacheco Canyon wildfire was the latest blaze to set off alarms. A shift in the winds could have turned it toward the watershed that feeds Santa Fe but, instead, the fire blew through the Santa Fe National Forest and toward the Pecos Wilderness area — bringing it all the closer to San Miguel County.
Of course, it’s unimaginable that that fire would get anywhere close to Las Vegas, even though on Saturday evening its plume of smoke could be clearly seen covering the sky to the north of town, and by Monday morning you could smell it in the air.
Fortunately, knock on wood, we’ve managed to avoid the real danger for Las Vegas. All it would take is a fire like the one in Pacheco Canyon a few miles east, where the Gallinas watershed supplies 90 percent of our city water. A wildfire in the Gallinas Canyon could be catastrophic for Las Vegas.
We think we have it bad right now, with a river flow that’s about three-and-a-half times lower than a year ago and reservoirs only about two-thirds full. A significant wildfire in the Gallinas watershed would ruin our primary water supply, possibly for years to come, polluting the river with ash and erosion and essentially robbing our city of its most valuable resource. Las Vegas would dry up.
Of course, that’s not the only hazard during this especially dry season. Homes, property, animals and even human lives can be lost to an out-of-control wildfire, and given the current conditions, it doesn’t take much to set a fire of epic proportions. The Wallow fire in Arizona and New Mexico may have been started with a campfire that wasn’t completely extinguished. The Track fire on the New Mexico-Colorado may have been the result of an ATV’s exhaust. And while the cause of the Pacheco fire is still an open question, odds are it was something simple — and caused by a human.
San Miguel County has already imposed a burn ban, but that’s not enough. Neither the state nor municipalities can legally call off fireworks, which means we’ve got to trust citizens to be responsible in their celebrations in and around July 4.
Remember that just because you’re miles from a forest doesn’t mean you can’t start a fire. A bottle rocket hitting a parched tree in your neighborhood or landing on a home’s dry shingles are enough to cause a fire that could outgrow a bucket of water in no time.
The law may not allow for an all-out prohibition of fireworks this summer, but common sense suggests that we, as responsible citizens, should impose such a ban on ourselves. Please, take the year off from your usual Independence Day fireworks celebration. Take no risk. For the safety of us all, don’t light a single firecracker this summer.