The Fight About the Fire Has Just Begun

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Now that the rains have finally begun, the fire danger around Lincoln County is much less than it was on Friday, June 8, when the Little Bear Fire exploded.  Unfortunately, as the incredible firefighters put out the flames, another fire is brewing – and this one is political.  And, it is not going away any time soon.

NOTE:  ALL PHOTOGRAPHS IN THIS ARTICLE (UNLESS NOTED) ARE COPYRIGHT 2012 BY SJ REIDHEAD.  THEY MAY NOT BE USED FOR ANY PURPOSE WITHOUT CONTACTING ME FOR MY WRITTEN PERMISSION.

There are several fronts in this political fire-storm.  Perhaps the most interesting, from The Pink Flamingo’s point of view is the attack on Steve Pearce for daring to question the US Forest Service.  The attacks against him are well-coordinated.  As far as I can tell, they’re coming from Democratic operatives. The irony here is that they are attacking him for daring to make a political attack during a time of crises.  It is exactly what they are doing.  Remember, these are the same people who decided to crucify George W. Bush for Katrina.

We have a very real problem with the forest service administrators.  We also have a very serious problem with those of us who have been critical being told that we are not being respectful of the firefighters in the field, while they are putting their lives at risk.

This is NOT about them.  It never has been. What is happening, though, is the incompetent administrators who have made, not one but two major errors in the past few weeks don’t want to be criticized or second guessed. Neither does the Governor of New Mexico, who is  undertaking what appears to be something of an intimidation tour against residents in Lincoln County who are speaking out about the initial attack on the fire.

Ruidoso Free Press

On June 14, Martinez was highly critical of those of use who were critical of the forest service.  That morning, The Pink Flamingo presented evidence that the forest service was not being as candid as they could be about their actions of the previous week.  A few hours later, Martinez was doing a local radio show, basically telling those of us in Ruidoso, who were complaining, to shut up.

Ruidoso Free Press

Governor Martinez had best remember that this is one of the most Republican counties in the country.  Right now, she’s not winning many friends and influencing people.  You see, we’re not that stupid.  In a comment, right below this quite that The Pink Flamingo highlighted, a ‘local’ wrote the following.

“...I am not throwing rocks at anyone, however, a friend and I were at the scenic overlook on Ski Run Rd. Tuesday, June 5, around 11AM. A USFS employee drove up and we visited with him for awhile. He was checking on graffiti removal at the overlook. He said he had a couple of guys watching a small fire over the ridge, commenting that they planned to let it burn itself out. That apparently did not work out very well! Seems like if there is a fire in the forest, put it out….”

The entire tale evolves around Martinez picking up the forest service’s tale that a chopper can’t go into the altitude where the fire was burning, to dump water. Michael Swickard, Ph, D. has a response for that one.  It is exactly what people around here have been saying for days.

“...I hesitate to speak to the how of dealing with fires; however, I am concerned by the statement that helicopters could not bring water to the Little Bear Ruidoso fire because of the altitude. Is that the same reason for the Gila fire also not being addressed when it was so small, eh? I did ask a family relative who flies helicopters about a service ceiling of 10,000 feet and he said that the tech manuals show a much higher ceiling. But that is the call on the pilots. I was told that the decision to deal with the fire was made in the administrative unit, not the tactical unit. The story about this says the pilots said they could not fly. I heard from someone that they were told not to fly. Which story is true? I do not know. Show me the paper trail and I will be glad to admit I am wrong. Still, there were three days where the fire could have been put out while it was still small. Who let these three days go by? These are reasonable questions that do not take away from the efforts to deal with the fire. Don’t want to address them now? OK, when?…”

On June 15, the Governor changed her tune and said that more needed to be done by the forest service to fight fires like this.  But, she still did not hesitate to criticize Congressman Steve Pearce.

KIVA

If the situation were not so critical, and so many lives have been uprooted for NOTHING, it would almost be laughable.  She does not hesitate to criticize Steve Pearce, but is basically admitting that he is right.  Even more fascinating is, while all of this is going on, there has been a pattern of going after anyone who dares criticize the forest service.

The Pink Flamingo soon discovered that this specific person who was criticizing the Congressman was a big liberal and Obama supporter.  So were those who were picking up on his tweet.  When I asked if he was working for Steve’s opposition, he shut up.

So, what we have here is an incompetent governor who managed to get caught in her incompetence.  From what I’ve heard, she is just like her counterparts of Jan Brewer and Nikki Haley.  And – that’s not saying much at all.  Is it possible she was using the emergency to take a few less than honorable political swipes at Steve Pearce?

While all of this is going on, the Dems are using the opportunity to attack the Congressman for his very upfront battle against the administrative incompetence of the forest service.  If his criticisms were something new, one could possibly make a case that he was being political when he shouldn’t be.  BUT – because he has been on top of this problem for ages, he has quite a bit of cache with the subject.

ABQ Journal

These people are just digging themselves in, deeper.  The fire did not explode that Friday night, it happened in the afternoon.  I met my parents for an early supper at Jorges in Ruidoso Downs.  It was around 5:00 at the latest.  The clouds were already billowing up over the ridge on the other side of the road.  I could see there was a major fire by the time I left my condo.  It was out of control before sundown.  I took the following photos around 7PM, up near Ski Run Road.

NOTE:  ALL PHOTOGRAPHS IN THIS ARTICLE (UNLESS NOTED) ARE COPYRIGHT 2012 BY SJ REIDHEAD.  THEY MAY NOT BE USED FOR ANY PURPOSE WITHOUT CONTACTING ME FOR MY WRITTEN PERMISSION.

As you can see, it is not quite sunset.  It is difficult to tell from the photos, but the tree-line and the high ridge would put sunset a bit earlier than it would be for me, just a few miles away.  I then went to the lookout next to the Swiss Chalet for the following.  It was maybe 7:30 or so by then.

The pink dot is the sun.  The orange glow is not flame,  but the sunset.  What you are seeing is a fire that suddenly exploded, very high, with very high flames, topping very big trees. Contrary to what is now being told, there was not much wind at this time.

Around here, you can tell when there is wind.  Right after I took this photo, I headed back down the mountain to the Downs.  During the 15 minute or so drive, the local radio station had an announcement that everything was “fine”.  The fire was caused by a lightening strike, way into the forest.  There were no evacuations ordered and no homes were threatened. The forest service was on the job, fighting it.  They’d been working at it since Monday.  Because it was so remote, they were hiking in to fight it. Not to worry.  No problem.

By the time I arrived home, this was the scene by my front door.  Notice that the tree’s leaves are not really moving.  It is about 8PM or so.  FYI – while taking these, I was nearly skunked!

We were repeatedly assured that nothing was wrong.  The wind was light.  They were on the job, so not to worry.

I bring all of this up because someone is not being candid here.  The Pink Flamingo suspects it is because someone inside the federal bureaucracy needs to do a little CYOA because someone did not handle this properly.  Instead of coming out and admitting their error, they are now in the process of blaming everyone else.

Michael Swickart, Ph.D, posted an interview with Fire Chief Tom Porter of Jack Rabbit Flats Volunteer Fire Department in Tularosa is explosive.  He says, on the record, that the forest service decided to let the initial fire be a controlled burn.  The ground crew requested water, immediately, but were told that they were to use it as a controlled burn.  They requested water on Friday, when the fire jumped the fire lines.  They were not allowed to have the water.  On Friday, again, they told the fire crew to let it burn.

And  – this is what happened.

KOB

...VanWinkle said bureaucratic red tape has stifled some crews responses to protect homes. He said his crew from Capitan, NM, was ordered to stop protecting a home if it caught fire and move onto another home. Fortunately for David Hanna, the crew ignored that order and saved his home. “We might have broken the policy, but we saved the man’s house,” VanWinkle said. VanWinkle said his crew was also reprimanded because it chose to battle flames near homes instead of going to a meeting.

“I called them by phone and told them that we were still battling fire and that I was not going to be at that meeting and told them what trucks and what numbers.” Soon after, several fire safety officers told the crew to pull out of the fire fight because they didn’t attend the meeting, VanWinkle said….”

Steve Pearce is still on the job, not backing down from what has happened here.

“...Many Lincoln County residents affected by the Little Bear Fire question if more homes could have been saved if bureaucratic red tape hadn’t kept firefighters at bay. A lot of homeowners are furious and so is U.S. Congressman Steve Pearce. During a phone interview on Friday, Pearce said he supports the firefighters 100 percent.

He points fingers at the big wigs in D.C. He believes the fire service should have done more, sooner, when the fire first flared up. “My question early on, and still my question, the bureaucracy, their decision making, they need to change the policy,” says Pearce.

His beef has never been with the fire fighters actually battling the fire, “Their work is heroic,” said Pearce.

Pearce wants the U.S. Forest Service to mobilize local crews more quickly and actually protect homes, instead of being told it’s dangerous and to just let them burn.

Capitan Volunteer Fire Department Cpt. Craig VanWinkle is a great example. He said he was instructed to not protect homes if it caught on fire, and instead move on to other homes. “We might have broke the policy but we saved the man’s house,” said VanWinkle. VanWinkle said in the end his crew saved between 50 and 70 homes.

“Repeatedly we come up against the same things, we wind up with smaller fires that become bigger fires, I know our firefighters can solve the problem,” says Pearce….”

Swickard wrote:

NM Politics

This is exactly what Steve Pearce is saying.  But – he is being told to shut up and not say anything during a crises.  What is most telling are some of the comments after Swickard’s column.  There is an active group of people going around, attacking anyone who is speaking out on what has happened.

NM Politics
NM Politics

Those opposing Congressman Steve Pearce are using his comments against the Forest Service’s management to attack Pearce. It is quite obvious that Steve has hit a nerve.  We are watching the beginning of an attempt at a bureaucratic cover-up.  Fortunately, I don’t think Steve is going to let this happen.

This is one of those times where The Pink Flamingo can easily state that one of the good guys is being attacked.  If every district had a congressman like Steve Pearce, the country would be a better place.  I guess you can tell I support him 150%!

The worst part of this is that, because of the outright incompetent call made by the bureaucrats in the US Forest Service, 224 homes were destroyed.  There are currently over 1400 brave men and women out there, on the front line, putting their lives in danger because of a very bad decision. What is even worse is that those who made this decision are using these brave men and women as human shields, hiding behind them, unwilling to admit their terrible mistakes.

This is the result – a montage of photos from Google search.

Google Search – Little Bear Fire


 

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