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Posts Tagged ‘Arizona’

The following post comes to us courtesy of Stephen J. Pyne, an environmental historian who has written extensively about the history of fire and fire policy and is the author of the FHS Issues Series book America’s Fires. This posting originally appeared on the website AZCentral.com on July 5. It was written after the Yarnell Fire incident that killed 19 hotshot firefighters on June 30, 2013.

“AFTER THE FIRE”

This time it feels personal.

All day I had noticed a film of smoke, and before dinner I watched to the north as the pall thickened and sky roughened into blue cloud, and wondered if there was a fire there, and if the clouds meant the winds would be squirrely, and if they might affect any burn under way. There was and they did.

The news passes, the mourning goes on. So will the contentious interpretation of what happened, and why, and what we might do about it. It does no dishonor to the fallen to note that we’ve seen this too often before and that little new is likely to emerge beyond the sickening particulars. Still, it’s worth rehearsing the basics.

Over the past 140 years we have created, by missteps and unintended consequences, a firescape that threatens both our natural habitat and our built landscape. The problem is systemic, the result of how we live on the land. In many respects it resembles our health care system. Horrors like the Yarnell Hill fire are part of the usually hidden costs.

We know a lot about the issues. We know we need to replace feral fire with tame fire. We know how to keep houses from burning. We know that we face an ecological insurgency that we can’t carpet bomb out of existence or beat down with summer surges of engines and crews, that we have to control the countryside. We know the scene is spiraling out faster than we can scale up our responses: we would need the equivalent of a new Civilian Conservation Corps program to catch up. Every contributing cause points in the same worsening direction.

The political landscape seems an equal shambles. The fundamental issues are not policies, but politics, and not just inadequate funding but an inability to reach consensus about what we want and how to do it. Disaster fires get hijacked to advance other agendas, too many of which are stalemated.

We’ve lost our middle ground, literally—the middle landscape between the extremes, the wild and the urban, that have defined the American West for the past 50 years. The landscape is polarizing as much as society, splitting between green fire and red. We can’t slow sprawl except by recessions. We can’t reconcile wild and working landscapes.  Instead we ask fire crews to plug the gaps. There is little reason to believe that fire casualties in Arizona will jolt the system to self-correct any more than mass killings in Colorado and Connecticut led to gun reform.

Two trends are worth watching. A National Cohesive Strategy for wildland fire that seeks to reconcile resources with risks is in its final development phase. If it succeeds it will serve as a fire constitution, a messy mechanism by which the hundreds of competing interests might work through the necessary compromises with some political legitimacy. We could move fire management beyond emergency response.

The second is that the agencies may adjust internally. They have learned to declare fire-vulnerable houses indefensible and to refuse to commit crews to some high-risk firescapes with limited values. They are often adopting a big-box model in which they pull back to some defensible barrier and burn out. They may expand the notion of defensibility to include whole communities and landscapes when conditions are extreme—exactly the time the bad fires are likely to rage. At such moments communities would have to rely on their own preparations.

We would move toward a hurricane model of protection. You’re warned. You board up the windows and either leave or stay. The fire blows through. The crews move back and hit hot spots. The community returns.  In the case of natural landscapes, the mountain burns over.  We try to rebuild more resilient fire regimes out of the aftermath. A troubling prospect, but we’ve lost the chance to get ahead of the burn rate, and the gears of the Cohesive Strategy could easily freeze up when the time comes for real money and decisions.

Once the flame of grief passes, the shouting will begin again. But maybe this time we can make the political personal. We can fix what is within our hands. We can look inside and ask if we are ready to have others pay the price for how we live on the land. We can at least pause and in a moment of silence listen to the still small voice that comes after the fire.

Steve Pyne

School of Life Sciences, Arizona State University

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When Mrs. B-logger and I moved from Washington, DC, to Durham in 2003, we only half-jokingly said we wished we could move our friends and some of our favorite restaurants and stores with us. When the Cady Lumber Corporation decided to move in 1924 to get access to more timber, its owners did just that. It moved all of its employees. And their families—800 people in all. From Louisiana to Arizona. This was the very definition of moving lock, stock, and barrel.

At the time, moving a lumber camp was not unheard of. A logging company would put the small houses and other buildings on railroad cars and move them to the next location a few miles down the line.

Logging camp cars.

Converted railcars often served as housing and offices for loggers. This one was used by the Crossett Lumber Company, Crossett, Arkansas. (FHS4448)

But in 1922, William Cady realized that his lumber and milling company had cut out nearly all the yellow pine around McNary, Louisiana. He realized that it would be cheaper to abandon the land than it would to undertake reforestation. He and his business partner James McNary had an unusual idea. They would buy an existing mill operation and relocate their employees to another region of the country. McNary and Cady wanted to keep their skilled loggers and mill labor because the owners felt they were the best at what they did.

McNary first scouted the Pacific Northwest and then Mexico. He then found the mill town of Cooley, Arizona, on the Apache Indian Reservation. He and Cady purchased the defunct Apache Lumber Company for $1.5 million in a deal that included all of Apache’s timber holdings and its milling operations in Cooley and Flagstaff. The deal had to be approved by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and also the U.S. Forest Service because the agency oversaw timber on the reservation and because some of the timber was coming off of the Sitgreaves National Forest. In fact, nearly all of the timber Cady contracted for was on government land, and the government would pick up the cost of fire fighting and reforestation. Cady Lumber then spent $3.5 million to install an all-electric plant with three band saws. For marketing purposes, the company received permission from the federal government to rename Cooley as McNary. With that, it was time to pack.

On February 7, 1924, the last log in the McNary, Louisiana, plant was cut. Three days later employees boarded special trains with their baggage and equipment and moved west to the new home that awaited them. They were moving from the heat and humidity of Louisiana to a town at 7,300 feet above sea level, a place where they measure annual snowfall in feet. To say that there would be some adjustment required to get used to the new surroundings was an understatement. But it wasn’t just the weather.

Of the 500 employees who moved, almost all were African American. According to the 1920 federal census, there were 8,005 African Americans in the entire state of Arizona—or 2.4% of the state’s population. James McNary recorded in his autobiography that “there was a good deal of indignation in some quarters in Arizona over the importation” of the African American employees and their families but the threatened violence never materialized.

Once operations started in Arizona, the company also employed Native Americans and old homesteading Spanish and Anglo families in the area. According to McNary, each ethnic group constituted a quarter of the work force. Though living conditions in McNary, Arizona, were better than what was found in surrounding towns, it was nonetheless a company town (the company controlled all utilities, hospital, and schools, and owned the housing and only store in town)—and one that was segregated. Each group had its own section of town, with its own school. When adjusting to the climate or life in Arizona proved difficult for some African Americans, they left, only to be replaced by others coming from Louisiana who had heard about the good jobs and a degree of racial tolerance unheard of in the Jim Crow South.

The caption read, “A typical residence street in McNary, showing roomy, comfortable homes of employees of the Cady Lumber Company.” However, African American employees lived in a separate part of town called the “Quarters.” (below)

The company store. It was the only place in town where employees could shop.

In 1935, James McNary bought out William Cady after Cady Lumber collapsed and renamed the company Southwest Lumber Mills (later it became the Southwest Forest Industries.) Over the next two decades McNary modernized logging and milling operations and built a lumbering empire that after World War II “would challenge Weyerhaeuser, Georgia Pacific and other preeminent producers on the Pacific Coast.” He also became involved in the work of the National Lumber Manufacturers Association. McNary sold his business interests in 1952 and became a man of leisure, publishing his fascinating autobiography This Is My Life in 1956 (for example, active in Republican politics on a national level, McNary was pals with Presidents Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover).

Eventually operations began shifting to the more modern Flagstaff plant. With that, the migration of workers began again. After a fire in 1979 destroyed the lumber mill in McNary, the remaining workers moved out, leaving McNary, Arizona, as deserted as its namesake in Louisiana.

Cover image from a photo tour pamphlet in the Southwest Lumber Mills, Inc., file.

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Both the topic of James McNary and the towns that bear his name are ripe for research. One could look at the business, the man, or the towns— through the lenses of social, racial, and environmental histories. FHS has materials on Cady Lumber and its move from Louisiana to Arizona and life there among the big white pines. The move to Arizona and the history of the company was captured in a lengthy article in American Lumberman magazine in 1926. In addition to this article and McNary’s autobiography, we have the records of the National Lumber Manufacturers Association, which contains McNary’s correspondence from when he was its president from 1937 to 1939. The Cady Lumber Corporation materials include copies of the contracts signed by Apache Lumber in 1918 with the government and when Cady bought them out. We also have information on Southwest Forest Industries, including several annual reports and press releases from the 1980s. Secondary sources include Curtis Wienker’s article-length study of the town, “McNary: A Predominantly Black Company Town in Arizona” (Negro History Bulletin, 1974) and Arthur R. Gómez’s 2001 study “Industry and Indian Self-determination: Northern Arizona’s Apache Lumbering Empire, 1870-1970,” in Forests Under Fire: A Century of Ecosystem Mismanagement in the Southwest. The Cady operations, which at one point was the largest contract producer of timber in northern Arizona, are also discussed in a history of Region 3, Timeless Heritage. Speaking of northern Arizona, the Arizona Historical Society has some papers on Southwest Forest Industries and Northern Arizona University has images and 3 related oral histories.

The April 10, 1926, issue of “American Lumberman” magazine featured a 55-page article on the Cady Lumber Corporation operations in McNary and Flagstaff.

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