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Perhaps the biggest question on the minds of local residents throughout the fire was how will the area be
affected by Agent Orange? The sad truth is we don't know how it will affect us and we won't know. Initially the
Forest Service said the fire wan't in the area, then they said that it was too difficult to test and that it was
irrelevant because 20 year old tests from 1998 did not show a problematic toxic level. (1971 tests didn't
either-- no government test ever has, even though Dow Chemical had to pay millions to those affected.)
The Forest Services' position irritated former Globe Mayor Terry Wheeler an attendee at the first large fire
meeting held at High Desert Middle School on Thursday May 25th. Wheeler insisted the area be tested
immediately. A lot of people have died from this, he said. Local residents shared his frustration. The
consensus among locals is the fire should have been put out when it started. The reclassification from Type
3, to Type 1 fortified their position. They dismiss the Forest Service's blame of the unexpected accelerants of
temperature, humidity, wind and moisture content in the brush, as being eminently predictable.
Nor were locals mollified by the concept of forest maintenance being necessary when the area involves
private property, homes and Agent Orange. The feeling was that testing for Agent Orange may indeed be
difficult in an active burn, but why was it not done when the fire started and it was known that Agent Orange
had been sprayed over the proposed controlled burn area?
Several days after the meeting, the Forest Service said that tests would be conducted-- but they were not
going to wait for the tests or results before proceeding with their controlled burn in the area where Agent
Orange was sprayed. This plan effectively rendered the tests moot. It is highly unlikely any testing will result
in something other than confirmation that there is no problem. Experts agree that after this length of time,
Agent Orange would not be found in the air or on surfaces, however, buried under soil or sediment, it is
entirely possible that it is still present, and the result of fire uncovering buried dioxins is unknown.
When asked directly if they were going to put the fire out, representatives from the Forest Service were
evasive at the May 25th meeting. Logistics were part of the problem-- the fire spread to elevations that are
too steep for fire fighters-- but the frustrating part for local residents is that the Forest Service continued to
want to promote a low intensity controlled burn in the brush for forest maintenance without guarantees that
private property and lives will not be affected. And after the fire, residents wondered about the possibiity of
flooding during the monsoon season.
A pre-evacuation advisory for Kellner and Ice House Canyons was later made, but no need for an evacuation
order presented itself, and utlimately the pre-evacuation advisory was lifted. Had an evacuation been
ordered, residents would have had three hours to abandon their properties. For that reason the Forest
Service urged homeowners to fortify their homes by clearing them of debris and fire hazards. That is a good
Bitterness was evident at the meeting when the rhetorical question of 'Who will pay for it if my property is
damaged?' was raised. The unspoken answer was 'Not the government!', which further increased the
frustration level over why this fire wasn't promptly put out.
Smoke became a big issue and three smoke specialists were called here to deal with it. Air quality smoke
monitors were placed in Globe and in Miami. Advice to the public that medical help be sought if they are
affected by smoke has also been met with, 'Who's gonna pay for that?'
Undeniably, the area sprayed with toxic chemicals in the 1960s has been engulfed by this fire. Agent Orange
was used as a defoliant here in 1966, 1968, and most notably, 1969. The late Billee Shoecraft documented it
in her book, "Sue The Bastards!" In the opening pages, she drew a map of what area was sprayed in 1969,
and on what day it was sprayed. We've taken her map and superimposed it on a map of the area that the
Forest Service said was burning on May 25th. The pink area denotes the fire, the hatched area is the area
sprayed with Agent Orange in 1969, and the purple outline is the area that the Forest Service was allowing to
burn as the fire progressed. (The map directly below it is Billee's original plotting of the sprayed area.)
Below is the area that was under evacuation watch, which has since been lifted.