. . . I've been told that I write novels for email messages. Perhaps this is the way to go. I'll try to make each entry, or Gemstone, a "precious" one. On mediocre days, all I might be able to produce is a "semi-precious" entry. In any case, an entry might be a "neat" Gemstone--something that is uniquely mine.

Friday, October 17, 2008


I was born and raised in northern California (as I've mentioned in my profile) and moved to the Land of Enchantment 9 years ago this week.  When we first visited here on a house hunting trip in September 1999, it was a beautiful town with mountains covered in evergreen pinon and ponderosa pine trees and gorgeous quaking aspen.  I always thought it looked like Lake Tahoe without the lake!  When we came to our new home a month later, we were told that we should have come a couple of weeks earlier so that we could have seen the fall colors with the aspens and oaks turning orange to yellow on the mountains.

About 6 months after we moved here a great fire burned through our mountains and our town.  We never did see the orange hills in the fall.  Four hundred homes were lost and the beautiful green hills were gone forever.  We were evacuated from town on May 5, 2000 when the fires were said to have "hopped the canyon" and were headed for the homes in what was called "the western area".  We scrambled to get our most valuable belongings together and packed into the cars and joined the other vehicles that were on the road evacuating town.  As I sat there in the car at a standstill I was pointed toward the hills and watched in horror as the flames burned right in front of me.  Sure, it was about 50 feet up the hill but it was in my direct view and really was frightening.  We learned later that the homes directly below where the fires were seen on the mountain and in between the main road were lost.

When I was looking at various website's Week in Pictures links as I like to do each week, I was struck by this photo below from Yahoo!'s Week in Photos:
This photo was taken in Southern California in the San Fernando Valley area and reminded me of what the view was as we evacuated town all those years ago, only with the cars facing the opposite direction and it being later in the day in the above photo.  We evacuated town in early afternoon so it was still pretty light.  When I saw the photo I felt a hard pang in my stomach, even after all these years.  Hy heart goes out to everyone affected by the fires.

Now, over 8 years later, the aspen trees are filling the mountain areas little by little.  Each year is better and this year in the spring and summer, there was green "up there in them-thar hills".  And this fall we've seen some oranges and yellows from the new stands of aspens in the brown hills.  They say the pines won't come back for at least 30 years but at least we're seeing recovery (this photo taken this spring and the first two photos at the beginning of this blog via The WoodsWanderer).
Our town is still beautiful but scarred.  It doesn't look like I remember Lake Tahoe looking anymore, but is fantastic regardless.  If you ask me, it is the people who make this town beautiful!


Mr. Ree said...

We too were evacuated during the 2000 Cerro Grande Fire. We live on the edge of town, near the airport. Drivers were very polite about letting us blend into the non-stop stream of traffic going down the Main Hill Road.

A few nights before Los Alamos was evacuated, neighbors were standing down at the end of our street, looking west toward Pajarito Mountain as thin lines of flame licked down the mountain. I don't think that any of us believed that those tiny, far off orange flames would ever threaten Los Alamos.

The evening the controlled burn on Cerro Grande was first ignited by the park service, I was out walking. I saw some thin smoke from a ridge to the south of Pajarito Mountain.

When I got back home, I called the non-emergency police number and asked if it was a wildfire or a controlled burn. I was told it was a controlled burn. It had such a small, innocuous beginning but it affected many people's lives forever.

When the evacuation order came, the sky was an eerie orange and everyone on our street was quietly packing up. Leaving your home and not being sure you'll ever see it again was a strange experience but we were among the lucky ones. Bless those who lost their homes.

Neat Rox said...

Yes, drivers were very polite for us as we merged at Conoco Hill onto Diamond. Everyone was so helpful.

When I first heard about the control burn and saw it getting worse every day, I just knew that our town was in danger. I'm afraid I was very pessimistic from the start. When the first homes were burning, it broke my heart too.

A friend of mine lost their home and I know of a few others (acquaintances). My friend rebuilt, but the others I know sold their lots and moved away. Some moved to another part of town or to White Rock. Others left altogether. I feel sorry for the ones who left because they didn't get to see or experience the recovery of our town and how well people stuck together.