Alight embodies both the terror and beauty of wildfires in the West. I have lived in this region nearly all my life and witnessed five decades of change as the landscape endures more frequent droughts, declining snowpack, and explosive population growth. With these changes come more damaging wildfires.

The Hermits Peak and Calf Canyon fires in New Mexico destroyed 341,735 acres of land in the spring of 2022. They began as two separate prescribed burns that grew out of control and converged due to high winds and extremely dry conditions. Their devastation captured my interest and led me to visit the small community of Mora, New Mexico where I spoke to residents, observed the transformed landscape, and imagined the horror that all living beings experienced when confronted with the fire’s power. After the months-long fires finally ended, monsoon rains brought heavy flooding, scattering ash and mud down slopes. Yet, I also witnessed the resurgence of life with new vegetation and flowers that rose up through the ash, and the return of elk and bear.

I use watercolor alongside charcoal collected from the burn area to recreate a sense of the awe and raw beauty that wildfires impose upon our landscape. A triptych documents the phases of fire from a rich, full forest to the fire itself, through the washing away of the floods, to eventual renewal. The transparency of watercolor reflects how unseen the victims of this fire are in the eyes of wider society. An artist’s book and artifacts from the burn site quantify the losses and show the apocalyptic nature of the landscape following the fires.

Learn More and Help:

A year after the fires, residents of northern New Mexico are still suffering due to lingering health issues related to smoke inhalation and mold from the floods. The floods were so devastating that many areas will be rezoned and may prevent residents from rebuilding their homes and lives entirely.

The owners of Feral Gardens, Tyler and Erika, lost their home and farm near Sapello, New Mexico, and are still dealing with the long-term consquences of the Hermits Peak and Calf Canyon fires. If you are interested in helping this lovely couple, please contribute to their GoFundMe page.

The Mora Community
The Sangre de Cristo Mountain Initiative, founded by a Mora resident, this coalition seeks to address forestry management and landscape conservation in northern New Mexico. Learn more at SDCMI.

In Colorado
Colorado legislators are drafting 10 bills that address wildfire prevention and detection. Call your representatives and ask them to support these bills. Look up your representative at Find My Legislator.

The National Forest Foundation engages Americans in community-based and national programs that promote the health and public enjoyment of the 193-million acre National Forest System. Learn more at the National Forests website.

The Environmental Defense Fund works to preserve the natural systems on which all life depends. The organization builds partnerships and works with people from all sides to change people’s perspectives and government policy. Learn more at the EDF website.