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Cool heads for a hot season

It is interesting to note how folks respond when a threat, or imagined threat, arises.

Such is the case with the Little Sand Fire in Hinsdale County, northwest of Pagosa Springs.

Those living in close proximity to the fire have reason for concern, but their numbers are few. The fire is a considerable distance from significant numbers of homes —at a distance where most residents in Pagosa Country have nothing to fear.

The fire is not going to roar down on the northern subdivisions of Pagosa Lakes, nor is it going to threaten the Town of Pagosa Springs.

And yet, there are some here who have been unable to repress an extreme response.

At public meetings held to discuss the fire, comments have been made, suggestions advanced, that skirt the boundary of the absurd. If not absurd, surely uneducated. Other comments indicate a poor understanding of forest ecology and of the benefit of fire to the forest.

Fear, panic and other extreme reactions are becoming the norm for many of us.The reaction is becoming too familiar. Ours is a culture of overreaction. The reaction to this fire is similar to those we experience in political and social situations where fear and aggression rear their ugly heads.

The rule of the day is exaggeration. The adrenalin level must be at a peak, the rhetoric extreme, the dangers and obstacles hyped to the max. Reason and pragmatic, measured responses are cast aside in favor of a lack of cooperation, little recognition of expertise, frantic responses.

It’s that way with the economy, with politics … with fires.

No, at this point, firefighters cannot extinguish the blaze. They cannot seed clouds to promote rain to stem the blaze. They can’t go into a Type 1 emergency mode. They won’t call in a fleet of air tankers. They can’t stop the fire from producing smoke.

The forest and fire managers know what they are doing, despite the snazzy ideas provided by some frenetic residents. And what they are doing will be beneficial in the long run.

Understory is burning that should have burned long ago. A longstanding policy of fire suppression led to conditions that produced a dangerous fire environment, and a less-than-healthy forest environment.

Let the Little Sand fire burn for a while, and don’t freak out. It is not inconceivable it could burn through much of the summer. When it is over, in no time at all, the area burned, and the wildlife that will move back, will be better for it.

We owe a debt of gratitude to the managers and firefighters dealing with the fire, regardless of whether we live in Hinsdale or at a distance, in parts of Pagosa Country. They know what they are doing, and they work tirelessly.

A fire ban will likely go into effect soon, and it signals what we all know: conditions are dangerous, the forests and the lands surrounding them are extremely dry. Chances are good we will see more fires as the summer progresses. A lightning strike in the forest, careless use of fire or engines, fireworks — any could ignite another blaze. Caution, not fear, should be the rule of the day, with hope that major rainfall occurs, over a sustained period of time.

We need to be careful and urge visitors to take care as well. Homeowners should create defensible spaces around dwellings. And, with the summer season fully underway, we should welcome our guests, treat them well, enjoy the events scheduled throughout the summer months, keep our fingers crossed regarding fires, and put up with some smoke. Without going nuts.

Karl Isberg

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