Wildfire Threatens New Mexico’s Cultural Heritage

Wildfire New Mexico BELatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of the New York Times.

Fire season begins with the most disturbing news in a decade. The largest fire in the country’s recorded history threatens to destroy an Indo-Hispanic mountain culture much older than the United States.

As reported by Reuters, the fire threatens several villages high in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, where the roots of European and Mexican settlers, as well as Native Americans, can be traced.

The fire has burned untold numbers of homes in the Mora Valley, and Sunday’s violent winds threatened adobe ranch houses, churches, chapels, and watermills dating to the early 1800s.

“It’s almost a form of cultural genocide that’s going on and the fire is the enemy,” said Miguel Gandert, a retired University of New Mexico professor who spent childhood summers fishing and helping on his family farm in the village of Mora.

Some residents’ families have been in New Mexico since the late 17th century, and more than half of Mora County, population 4,500, has stayed to defend their homes, police said.

As reported by the BBC, the so-called Hermits Peak Fire has been burning for more than a month and has ravaged an area larger than the city of Chicago.

The National Weather Service in Albuquerque tweeted that its forecasters are “using exceedingly rare language” in its warning for a “long duration and extreme fire weather event.”

It is believed to have started on April 6 and has been attributed, in part, to a wildfire started by the U.S. Forest Service to reduce flammable vegetation. However, the fire merged with another wildfire.

As the BBC concluded, compared to the 1970s, fires larger than 10,000 acres (40 km2) are now seven times more frequent in the western United States, according to Climate Central, an independent organization of scientists and journalists.

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