As I stood on the top of Mt. Elden overlooking the San Francisco Peaks, I had no words—mainly, tears. As a local citizen, I felt devastated for the families having to uproot their lives once again due to another fire. As a trail runner, I watched my paradise being decimated in real time. The forests, the wildlife—gone. The Pipeline Fire, 6 miles north of Flagstaff, AZ, was raging and 40 mph winds were not giving our beautiful mountain a fighting chance.
Flagstaff was one of the first towns I ever visited when I moved to this country in 1987. At that time, I was amazed that a green oasis of beauty could exist in a state with a climate that was predominately desert. I never dreamed that I would be living here one day, enjoying everything that nature had to offer. Looking up to Fremont Peak, I harkened back to the countless adventures I’ve had running and hiking up the Weatherford Trail that takes you to the saddle of Arizona’s third highest mountain at almost 12,000 feet high.
Those who know me know my love of peaks and that I spend most of my time climbing up Mt. Humphreys from the various trails that lead to Arizona’s highest peak. Now I can only imagine what is left. As the winds swept north, I thought of our beloved inner basin and Lockett Meadow, one of the most serene trails in the country.
Through social media, the community has come together for support. The fire in our hearts from anger, sadness and compassion has burned hotter than the flames. As the forest starts to shut down, many trail runners have fled south of the I-40 to the few remaining trails that are still open, such as Campbell Mesa and Walnut Canyon. This has coincidentally brought us together in person where we have shared our thoughts on the Pipeline Fire. Selfishly, we shake our heads in disbelief and anger. How could this happen to our forest? We spend far more time in those woods than most, many of us lending our hands to trail maintenance and clean-up to keep our forest beautiful. Some, like Trueheart Brown, are actively battling the flames as we speak. He and I are scheduled to run the coveted Western States 100. All I can think of is how much he’s having to deal with at a time when he should be relaxing and enjoying one of the biggest races of his life.
All of us know that nature has a way of resetting. With destruction comes rebirth. However, nature wasn’t involved here. In this case, it was likely gross neglect (the cause of the fire is still under investigation). Ignorance can no longer be an excuse for this type of devastation. The firefighters and responders now have to work tirelessly to ensure that our town is safe. Even when the fire is out, flood mitigation has to start over to protect us from the flooding the monsoons will bring. Events like this can simply be avoided by following the rules. We live in an age with abundant access to information. Fire restrictions are set in place online through media outlets, construction signs and campground notices. In the case of the Schultz area where the Pipeline Fire ignited, countless signs populate the area. No fires – period.
The trails have been my solace and escape since moving here four years ago. For most of us that share in the splendor of Flagstaff’s nature, we are angry. We have a right to be. Our little mountain range that resembles the towering peaks of Colorado, albeit on a smaller scale, will never be the same. I’d like to think that this will never happen again. Sadly, it will. Responsibility comes from within. It only takes one match to bring this much devastation, and ignorance can no longer be an excuse.