Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Another natural disaster in rural America: Arizona wildfires

As noted in other recent posts, a theme of media commentary on rural natural disasters ("but why would anyone live there in the first place?") is inter-generational attachment to place. Indeed, once again, a New York Times reporter seems respectful of this rural phenomenon. Marc Lacey reports on the Wallow fire, dateline Eagar, Arizona, population 4,317, in east-central Arizona, in the White Mountains/Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. Here's an excerpt regarding some residents' refusal to evacuate, in some cases because they hope to protect their homes, businesses and livestock:

The authorities called the holdouts foolhardy and required them to sign liability waivers, but did not try to force them out.

“They have a constitutional right to stay on their property,” said Brannon Eagar, chief deputy of the Apache County Sheriff’s Department, who acknowledged being frustrated by those who stay behind. “We will not go in and remove people, but we will not be liable for their safety.”

Deputy Eagar, whose great-great-grandfather founded this town, said he understood people’s attachment to the area. “Most of the people who live here have lived here for a long time,” he said.

“One of the reasons we live here is because of this beautiful mountain,” he added. “It tears you up to see what’s happening.”

Deputy Eagar fought back tears as he addressed residents at a community meeting on Monday night, moved by the despair of his neighbors and their camaraderie, too. The residents in the audience, many of whom had watched him grow up, clapped loudly. Link

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