For the past few days, there has been a breeze shaking the cottonwood trees near my home, raining down a fair amount of cotton in the area where I live. It has bunched up in clumps on the grass and even wafts through my car as I drive with the windows down. It’s a curious thing, to say the least.
One thing is certain, though. I’d rather see it raining cotton than ash. The latter rain is what some of my friends from Chino Valley got to witness last week as a nasty wildfire got out of control and spread across almost 7,000 acres. Right now, the Doce fire is about 50 percent contained, which is good, but the photos I saw on Facebook when the fire was running completely unchecked was downright terrifying.
Sadly, wildfires are all too common an occurrence in Arizona where I grew up. You could always expect to be inconvenienced by smoke in the air at least once a year. People who have never lived in Arizona always question why I would leave such a warm place, commenting that it’s just a dry heat. Unfortunately, the drawbacks of a dry heat include little moisture to keep an errant spark from igniting brush and creating infernos.
Although there were plenty of wildfires in the time I lived in Arizona, I have to say I never remembered one getting so close to Chino Valley. This particular fire started a few miles west near Williamson Valley, an unincorporated country community with dry grass and sparse homes as far as the eye could see. The area looks vastly different now.
The Doce fire produced plenty of smoke, which enveloped Chino Valley like a blanket, creating some curious patterns in the sky and causing ash to fall. Even though the fire itself has not come close to the town limits, the smoke has wreaked respiratory havoc in the area, prompting evacuations despite the unlikelihood the flames will reach that far.
While it is undoubtedly tough to live in the adjacent areas to the fire, it has also been nerve-wracking to me and others who have left Chino Valley to see the pictures and know that the place where we grew up is becoming irrevocably altered. The landscape has been changing for more than 20 years as the population has swelled and once-rich agriculture lands have been gobbled up for development, but the fire has produced change that no one wants to see.
Sadly, the Doce fire is not the only wildfire that emergency crews are having to deal with, and resources are spread pretty thin. It’s become a way of life that late spring and early summer in the Southwest equals fear that a random lightning strike or a careless camper leaving a fire unattended could make a hot time of the year even hotter and possibly take homes and lives. The cause of this particular fire is not yet known.
Once the fire is finally put out, the hard times will not end. The monsoon season is upon Arizona, and with the scorched earth preventing moisture from getting in, any significant rains could flood the area.
It’s life in the Southwest, a life that those who have never spent any significant time there are completely unaware of. Arizona is seen as a warm haven in the wintertime, an escape from the snow that builds further north. Unfortunately, any place you live has its drawbacks, and the “dry heat” is Arizona’s.
With the fire becoming more contained, the pictures on Facebook are becoming fewer, and my blood pressure is going back down. I will always keep Chino Valley close to my heart, and the last thing I need to contend with is heartburn.