Silver City's Symposium on Preparedness, March 7-8,
aims to help residents and officials prepare for the worst.
by David A. Fryxell
Three years to the day after the start of the Quail Ridge fire, which destroyed 13 homes in the Silver Acres subdivision south of Silver City, a two-day symposium will help residents and responders prepare for the proverbial fire next time. The free Silver City/Grant County Symposium on Preparedness, March 7-8 at WNMU's Global Resource Center, will address "community resiliency." In addition to wildfire preparedness, topics will include crime, evacuations, food sustainability, and dealing with trauma and loss.
This photo of the Lomita fire, which occurred off the Hwy. 180 truck bypass in May 2011, shows the radical physics aspects of fire behavior. (Photo by John Crow, Gila Community News)
"Each session is designed to help fill a community vacuum," says Kathy Anderson, founder of the Silver City Neighborhood Alliance (see "Out of the Ashes," October 2011), which is organizing the symposium with funding from the Freeport McMoRan/Grant County Community Health Council Community Enhancement Fund. "Any kind of emergency is interrelated to other kinds of emergencies, and cross-training issues are relevant to all of them. People generally think something bad is not going to happen to them. We're not trying to scare people, but you're never really ready for when it does, and that's why it's important to talk about it."
The first day of the symposium, March 7 from 8 a.m.-5 p.m., will feature a broad range of topics as well as door prizes. "It's designed for anybody and everybody," says Anderson. Speakers will include local officials, native-plant and sustainable-building experts, firefighters and neighborhood leaders.
Day two, March 8, will focus on "The Ember Zone: A Guide to Home Wildfire Assessments in New Mexico," and is aimed at emergency managers, first responders, Firewise Communities representatives, insurance agents, homeowner organization leaders and landscapers. Led by Ellen Brown of the US Forest Service, Dan Ware of New Mexico Forestry, and veteran firefighter Eliot Pickett, the first-of-its-kind workshop will be rolled out in Silver City and subsequently offered in Ruidoso.
The genesis of the preparedness symposium came in part from an idea by Nick Sussillo, the first director of Silver City's Office of Sustainability ("Net Positive," July 2010), and part from Anderson, who launched the neighborhood association in the aftermath of the Quail Ridge fire. She in turn met Ellen Brown at a Forest Service booth at the Farmers' Market. The three of them sat down together and began to brainstorm how to boost local preparedness and resiliency.
Anderson recalls a survey conducted by the Grant County Health Council in which area residents were asked to rate the most serious threats to the community. "Bad roads was number one, followed by wildfires. But structural fires ranked second from the bottom." In the reality of wildland urban interface areas, where wildfire fuel reaches almost to the doorways of homes, that represents a disconnect, she says: "People are building houses into the wildlands but not worrying that they could burn."
The Quail Ridge fire — about which Bill Bertsch, president of the Silver Acres Property Owners Association, says, "As bad as it was, it obviously could have been much worse" — was the impetus for the neighborhood association and in turn next month's symposium. "Silver City is drier and progressively hotter," says Anderson, "and the drought continues unabated. The Forest Service says the moisture content of trees is at an historic low. The fire season is now year-round."
Dedicated as they are, volunteer fire departments may not be adequately prepared for the next such disaster. "The Forest Service is trained to fight wildland fires, and the town fire department is trained for structural fires, but there's nobody in the middle," Anderson says. "Volunteer fire departments should be trained in both, but they are mostly used to dealing with grass fires."
Training of volunteer firefighters can be spotty and is offered only in Socorro. In 2012, 10 volunteer fire departments in Grant County split $1.2 million in funding for training and equipment. One issue the symposium will raise is whether volunteer firefighters should also be compensated in some way.
Three years after the Quail Ridge blaze, Anderson says the community is better prepared in some ways but not in others. "I think the city fire department is much better prepared, and volunteer fire chiefs are more knowledgeable. Firefighters are more aware of how radical wildfire behavior can be. But other pieces of the puzzle are still missing."
With next month's symposium, she hopes, some of those other pieces will begin falling into place.
For more information on the free Symposium on Preparedness, including a complete schedule and advance-registration form, see www.scneighborsalliance.com/Symposium2014.html. To contact the Silver City Neighborhood Alliance, email firstname.lastname@example.org or write 2311 Ranch Club Road, #416, Silver City, NM 88061.
Life in a State of Nature
More reader photos of creatures big and small.
This month brings a couple more reader-submitted photos of critters in our Southwest "zoo."
First, from Mike Moutoux, who started this whole thing with his javelina photo awhile back, is this fall snapshot of a deer: "The deer had been infrequent since the rain began, and we were just starting to see them again."
Then ace insect spotter Elroy Limmer returns with this mantis: "This male was still active in the yard yesterday afternoon. I believe it is a Bordered Mantis, Stagmomantis limbata."
Share your own photos of local creatures great and small. Send them to email@example.com or mail to PO Box 191, Silver City, NM 88062, and include your postal address for a little thank-you.
The Tumbleweeds Top 10
Who and what's been making news from New Mexico this past month, as measured by mentions in Google News (news.google.com). Trends noted are vs. last month's total hits; * indicates new to the list. Number in parenthesis indicates last month's Top 10 rank. Immigration issues are back in the news, and Virgin Galactic has a successful test flight (pictured). Plus 2016 speculation about Gov. Susana Martinez cracks the Top 10 again. With New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie looking tarnished by scandal, the Martinez chatter may escalate from the GOP veepstakes to the top of the ticket….
1. (1) New Mexico + immigration — 209 hits (▼)
2. (3) Virgin Galactic — 184 hits (▼)
3. (2) Gov. Susana Martinez — 173 hits (▼)
4. (5) Ex-Gov. Bill Richardson — 128 hits (▲)
5. (6) New Mexico drought — 127 hits (▲)
6. (8) New Mexico gay marriage — 114 hits (▲)
7. (4) Sen. Tom Udall — 105 hits (▼)
8. (7) Sen. Martin Heinrich — 100 hits (▼)
9. (9) Susana Martinez + 2016 — 90 hits (▲)
10. (-) New Mexico + Border Patrol — 62 hits (▲)