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Finally the Black Fire is out

Updated: Jul 5





The arrival of monsoon rainstorms dampened the out of control zeal of the Black Fire which has been burning in the Gila National Forest for almost two months now. Evacuations were mandated. Roads, campsites and forestry trails were closed. We lived with smoke, ash, cinders, eerie orange light and constant anxiety. At the height of the fire, the county population swelled with the around about 1500 fire crew brought to the area to battle the blaze.

On a rock collecting trip in late June, I took a little drive out to Hillsboro, one of the small towns where the Black Fire came uncomfortably close. Close enough for the population (199 according to 2020 census but some might have died since) to be packing go bags and watching updates on the fire line closely.

En route I passed the incident base encampment on the side of HWY 52. Several acres of sprawling tent and RV village established itself on BLM land between Truth or Consequences and Hillsboro, in response to the fire.

The fire crews would have driven through Hillsboro several times a day going to and from the fire line. I’m not sure when this sign at one end of the village was changed. It used to say “Slow Down Cat Crossing”. It seems that our local peccary population have taken precedence over domestic cats, as the fire displaced not only humans and their livestock, but also wildlife across the county.

I like to think the sign reflected on this (but cannot be sure).

Throughout the town new signs expressing appreciation of the fire crews have sprung up.

The historic buildings survived the fire, thanks to the fire crews who held the line until the monsoons came.

This is a big deal.

Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu is a Zulu phrase which I grew up with. If there was dissent in the ranks, my father, who spoke Zulu at native speaker level, would silence the noise with this key teaching of Ubuntu philosophy: a person is a person because of people. Always in Zulu, never diluting it by translating into English. I knew what it meant. If English was my mother tongue, Zulu, it always seemed to me, was the language in which my father, a man of few words in a raucous feminine household, found best expression.

Historic Hillsboro gets to slumber with its ghosts once again, alongside the road up to the mountain, thanks to community effort: fire crews and gratitude expressed.

The rusted heart in the repurposed metal artwork of mustang and longhorn bear witness at the side of the road through town.

Acknowledging reciprocity of debt and bond is part of being in community.


While in no way diminishing the phenomenal service of fire crews who battle wildfires, I am grateful too, to the monsoon storm which brought such relief, at last, to all living beings, animal and vegetable, in this drought ravaged region.

Yes. I’ll even take the mosquitoes in exchange for a brief season of monsoon humidity, knowing that the fire is now low to almost out.

…Be like the swallows and remember home as a loving tree…

from Fire is Low by South African group Freshly Ground (Songwriters: Zolani Mahola / Peter Cohen / Simon Attwell / Julio Sigauque / Neil John Francis Hawks / Kyla-rose Smith / Seredeal Scheepers)


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