From the June 2004 Idaho Observer:
If we burn it, they might leave Peppin fire reveals USFS agenda
ROSWELL, New Mexico -- On June 8, 2004, Stefan Cornibert of The Roswell Daily Record News reported that residents near the Peppin fire, which was burning on 48,000 acres in the Lincoln County National Forest and had consumed two mountains, believe, [U.S. Forest Service] fire fighting operations pose a greater threat to their homes than the fire itself.
Locals believe that the fire, which ignited May 10 with a lightening strike, would have burned less than 500 acres if traditional fire fighting methods had been implemented. USFS fire information officer Jackie Denk explained that the government was setting controlled fires to destroy ground fuels to halt the blaze's progress.
While information released to the public sounds logical, area residents claim the government is actually encouraging the fire. They're not fighting it, homeowner and local Pastor Cathy Anderson said. They are causing it. Now, two-thirds of the mountain is on fire and it wasn't before.
The fire on West Mountain was started by spotting from when the smoke column collapsed, Denk said. We have people doing burn-out operations along the roads to stop the fire's advance.
Denk was referring to Northern Arizona Incident Management Team, a group of firefighters working under contract with the USFS -- people who have more incentive to perpetuate fires rather than put them out.
Anderson described one controlled burn near her home. 'These two hotshot crews backed up to a band of trees about 200 yards from us and came out with stuff under their arms, she said. They were gone 45 minutes and then they came back. They took off in a hurry. Both of their buses took off and 10 minutes later the whole thing exploded. We had a tornadic turning of smoke and embers that came over our home. I'm sorry, I just think there's something else going on here. I don't think it has a lot to do with fire fighting,' Cornibert reported.
Anderson continued, They were going to light the whole thing on fire because there was 'potential fuel' there that might burn 'eventually' and they said that they were not going to stop until they burned the whole thing down.
West Mountain resident Kay Finklestein was thankful that crews cleared areas near homes with a bulldozer, but reportedly stated her belief that the back burn operations are unnecessary. It is just burning across the ridge and they are doing back burns, Finklestein said. I don't know why they are doing that. I'm furious. It seems to me, if you want to cut down a tree the Forest Service will have a fit but all of a sudden they are the ones who want to burn the forest down.
Anderson said firefighters have used incendiary bombs to ignite fuel on the ground and now the fire is out of control, wrote Cornibert, obviously taking the side of witnesses. West Mountain wasn't on fire until it crossed the gap. Now the whole thing is on fire because they did it. They've been dropping fire bombs. They did it yesterday. They did it the day before and now they've really got it going.
They're not back burning, Anderson said. I've seen back burning, where you go in front of a fire and burn back toward it. They're starting the fire. Why would they want to burn down two mountains? It just makes no sense to me.
Cornibert reported that firefighters, while preparing for a controlled burn near the Capitan Gap, discovered a nesting wild turkey and several eggs. The crew cleared brush and grass in a large circle around the nest. The turkey and her eggs made it through the burnout unscathed.
We had the Smokey Bear Fire producing the lovable Smokey the Bear, a symbol of fire prevention and protection said area resident Steve Wallace. Now we have the turkey, an appropriate symbol and reminder for today's Forest Service personnel who so grossly mishandled a small, 12-acre, or 50-acre, or maybe 400-acre innocuous fire.
Full coverage of this fire can be found at www.roswell-record.com.
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