A wildfire plays a prominent role in my new novel Wild Horses on the Salt, which will be released on June 14, 2020. For those of us who dwell in the desert, brush fires have become all too common, and though fires in the Southwest are a normal phenomenon, today they are stronger and hotter and more long lived than in the past.
What happened? People. The desert Southwest used to be sparsely populated, the result of searing summers and scattered water resources. Then, the draw of copper, silver, and gold enticed fortune hunters to the area. Large-scale population growth did not occur until the end of World War II when returning soldiers began looking for affordable housing. Then, an incredible invention changed the face of the desert: home air conditioning. From that time forward, the warmer climates of the Southwest began to draw people who were tired of the long, dark winters in other portions of the country.
Today, the Phoenix metro area is home to about 4.5 million people. The city is the 6th largest in the U.S. And here is where invasive species and their effects on wildfires come in. Some people, unaccustomed to the strange desert plants they encounter here, bring their favorite foliage with them, reminders of the homes they’d left behind.
While there is certainly no malice intended by those who revel in bright green lawns and non-native plants, their choices are irreparably altering the desert environment. Seeds are devoured by birds and transported to open areas where they are deposited. Seasonal heavy rains allow the plants to grow and spread, filling the empty spaces between desert trees, shrubs, and cactuses. In the past, a wildfire might eat up a relatively small area because the barren ground between these plants prevented the fire from spreading. Today, non-native grasses and shrubs give flames a clear pathway, resulting in massive infernos that consume huge swaths of land and burn for weeks at a time.
Add to that the fact that people keep moving into previously wild lands that were once allowed to burn, but which now require fire suppression to save lives, homes, and businesses. The problem is deserts and forests need fires to clear out brush and promote growth. For too long we have tried to extinguish all fires, which has led to much larger and more destructive blazes.
With the addition of climate change exacerbating a decades-long drought in the Southwest, the wildfire situation is already dire. The solution will surely be complicated and expensive.
A WOMAN FLEES AN ABUSIVE HUSBAND
AND FINDS HOPE IN THE WILDS OF THE ARIZONA DESERT.
Rebecca Quinn escapes her controlling husband and, with nowhere else to go, hops the red-eye to Arizona. There, Gaby Strand – her aunt’s college roommate – gives her shelter at the Salt River Inn, a 1930’s guesthouse located in the wildly beautiful Tonto National Forest.
Becca struggles with post-traumatic stress, but is enthralled by the splendor and fragility of the Sonoran Desert. The once aspiring artist meets Noah Tanner, a cattle rancher and beekeeper, Oscar Billingsley, a retired psychiatrist and avid birder, and a blacksmith named Walt. Thanks to her new friends and a small band of wild horses, Becca adjusts to life in the desert and rekindles her love of art.
Then, Becca’s husband tracks her down, forcing her to summon all her strength. But can she finally stop running away?
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