Standing at the Fire's Edge

Coconino Center for the Arts, Flagstaff, AZ, 2013

Dimensions: 19' in Diameter x 15' H

Materials: charred Ponderosa pine timbers and wood, Aspen pole, sewer pipes,bowls, Cottonwood leaves, water,steel

On Sept. 1, 1986, I was called up to serve on a Hot Shot crew based at the Spanish Fork District on the Uinta National Forest. We were to travel to Idaho to fight a 65,000 acre fire on the Boise National Forest. We arrived in the beautiful valley of Lowman on the banks of the South Fork of the Payette River. Base camp was like a scene from Vietnam, with dozens of helicopters either in the air, taking off or grounded. Nearly 2000 fire fighters were on the scene, with crews from as far away as the land of the mid-night sun.

We spent ten days packed in a National Guard duesen half or flying into the back country by helicopter. Every night coming back out, following the steep contour of the mountains in the dark, we had to stop and back up, and then inch our way around each turn. Each night we passed the spot where the week before a duesen half had rolled over the edge, killing four fire fighters from New Mexico.

Now, nearly thirty years later, I continue to travel up the road that parallels the Payette River to my boyhood home. Fires have changed since then. With more fuel to burn because of fire suppression, and because of global warming, fires are bigger in size and more severe. But the more immediate issue is the housing boom that for years has been encroaching into and on land where homes shouldn't be.  

I think of 19 needless deaths here in Arizona. I think of a tragedy. I think of steel staircases leading up to a viewing stand, looking out the back balcony of your future dream home, kneeling down next to some trophy elk. I think of the words of Gary Snyder: Sunday, the 4-wheel jeep of the Realty Company brings in landseekers, lookers, they say to the land, Spread your legs.