New Mexico wildfires ravaging remote forests

New Mexico wildfires ravaging remote forests

Mora County in northwest New Mexico took the brunt of the damage, the remnants of which remain strikingly visible. Blackened trees, barren peaks and scarred hills mark the landscape amid eerie silence in the neighborhood of Real De La Casa. Dirty, brownish water flows down streams, and beetles search for sap in the carcasses of trees. Rocks and stones cracked by the fire's heat are strewn about.

All of the aesthetics have changed, said Mora County road supervisor John Romero. All of the fish died from ash. The tens of millions of dead trees could be overturned and possibly reburnt, according to officials. State forester Laura McCarthy said trees posing a hazard near roads would be cut down.

The large wildfire extinguished a way of life rich in traditions that had been passed down for generations in the remote Sangre de Cristo Mountains, 2,000 square miles of forestland spread across northern New Mexico.

Indigenous people and settlers lived off the land, hunting deer and turkey for food, building mud-brick homes that were passed down to family members over the decades, and collecting water from natural springs.

They developed a sacred relationship with the land, believing that if they took care of the hallowed grounds, the mountains and forests would take care of them, said state historian Rob Martinez.

Much of the once-abundant wildlife, such as bears, buffaloes, foxes and rabbits, which local hunters relied on for food or to sell, have fled the burned-out territory. Loggers, ranchers and farmers saw their livelihoods go up in flames.

Some of the businesses in Mora County were forced to close and an estimated 100 residents were forced to relocate because of the fire, but officials said they were still trying to determine how much financial damage the fire caused.

Early data compiled by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the New Mexico Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management estimates that Mora County suffered $29 million in damages and losses statewide totaled $189 million.

More than half of the households in the county depended on firewood for heating and some for cooking, and they have had to convert to electricity or gas for those needs, officials said.

The controlled burns were conducted by the U.S. Forest Service to rid the forest of dry undergrowth that could fuel potential wildfires.