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Anson Stevens-Bollen

Smoke gets in your eyes

An old Santa Fe flame

October 26, 2016, 12:00 am

A concept we have to get our minds around if we live in these parts—in addition to remembering to say “in these parts” as often as possible—is the notion of the “prescribed burn.”

That’s when experts decide to start a forest fire in order to help prevent forest fires. I hope I didn’t oversimplify that too much. Look at it like this: These trees will never burn down by accident if we burn them down on purpose first.

One thing that bothers me about this is the use of the word “prescribed.”

“Mr. Basler, your house is overrun with chipmunks, so I’m going to go ahead and write you a prescription to burn it down.”

A few days ago, my wife told me first thing in the morning that she had closed every window during the night, because, you know, lots of smoke, and because she wasn’t able to get my lazy ass out of bed to find out what was burning.

Curious, I drove downtown through particulates so thick I was reminded of traveling in some of your more polluted areas of India. Clearly, this wasn’t just a thing happening in my little neighborhood.

I found some news stories about what had caused the problem, and they informed me that officials had halted a prescribed burn “after air quality monitors … indicated unhealthy levels of smoke.”

Unhealthy? You don’t say! You’re telling me that driving through the set of Mad Max: Fury Road might not be good for me? It was pretty much like starting a big, crackling piñon fire in your kiva, and then closing the flue.

One story quoted a press release explaining, “Afternoon and evening winds were less than expected, and an inversion kept smoke over the city.”

It turned out the Forest Service decided to stop the burns after consulting with the New Mexico Environment Department and the New Mexico Department of Health, two groups maybe they should have consulted before bringing in a team of enthusiastic arsonists with flame throwers.

According to one story (and I am not making this up), “anyone experiencing health effects from smoke exposure should take extra care to stay inside or get to an area with better air quality.” You mean, the level of air quality we had before you guys got started?

But here was the best news nugget of all: “Fire crews … started the burn Wednesday with hand ignitions, and aerial ignitions were launched Thursday.”

“Hey, Carl! Get over here with your Zippo and the lighter fluid! That’s all we’ve got until tomorrow, when they call in the Napalm strike!”

I do understand that forest fires aren’t a laughing matter around here, and that these are people with our best interests at heart.

But when I was a kid we had a saying: “Just wait’ll your mom gets home!” If the nature of whatever you had done was such that your mother could detect it with one of her five senses when she walked through the front door, there might be a US Army recruiting office in your future.

And yet, here we are, in Santa Fe, being told that because of the deliberate actions of others, maybe we shouldn’t breathe the air in our own homes for the time being. Or, perhaps we’d like to visit Colorado for an unscheduled stopover to inhale.

Is somebody’s mom going to have a word with the prescribed burn people about this?



Robert Basler’s humor column runs twice monthly in SFR. Email the author: bluecorn@sfreporter.com


 

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