Midnight Fire, El Rito, NM, 2022

November, 2022, found John Schaffer and I working on one of his land and wildfire management videos, this time in the tiny funky town of El Rito, New Mexico, site of the Midnight Fire earlier that year.

As with all of John’s projects, this one had a slightly different message: in this case there had been recent fuel and fire management activities in the area, and what could have turned into a huge catastrophic fire instead just kinda petered out when it reached the previously managed areas. It’s a good case study of how private and public entities can work together to manage the land and forests better.

Our work introduced us to a different part of New Mexico, as well as the usual array of fascinating experts from the National Forest Service, fire fighters, local officials, and landowners.

Unfortunately there was also some production drama on this project: as happened when I started to fly for the Rafael Fire project, my (new!) drone freaked out and buzzed away. As in the previous case, it was close by, no interference, obstructions, calm weather. I even had somebody looking over my shoulder who agreed: I didn’t do anything weird, it just suddenly jumped to hyperspace and took off.

As before, the system plotted its last-known location. Unlike before, I still had a live video feed…it was pretty weird and unrecognizable, but it was live, which gave me hope that the drone was still somewhere close. Unfortunately the last-known location was down a very steep mountainside which had recently burned, so it was covered in thick ash, mud, and snow.

As was my drone, when we found it, exactly where the system said it would be. And when I picked up the drone I realized why the video feed was weird – the camera lens was caked in mud and ash. But at least I was able to recover the drone – and the entire day’s footage. From here on out I vowed to change out memory cards early and often.

It was a tough climb down and especially back up the mountain slope. Well, it was tough for me. Much less challenging for the National Forest Service person who ahd eagerly hiked down with me.