Monday morning, my wife and I were driving north on the Beeline Highway and, like everyone else, we were concerned about the smoke plume rising above the Mogollon Rim.
When we stopped at an intersection, we noticed the couple in the car in front of us (with a local license plate holder) pointing at the ominous smoke plume created by the Pack Rat Fire. When the light turned green, the driver flicked his smoldering cigarette butt out his window and drove off.
It's disgusting enough to have to live with discarded cigarette butts scattered outside local businesses (sometimes within feet of an ashtray) or dumped in piles in the parking lot, but watching a local person throw a burning butt out the window burns me up, and could burn us all up.
This isn't an issue of smokers versus non-smokers, it's a matter of common sense, courtesy and safety. Wednesday, the Five Mile Fire charred the forest north of Strawberry, started by a human, and what Forest Service officials say could easily have been a tossed cigarette.
With the arrival of Labor Day weekend, we are sure to have many visitors traveling through the Rim country who may not be aware of the extreme fire dangers we face living in the forest. But to those local fire flickers it's time for them to put their butts in their place. After witnessing a tossed cigarette, like many of you, I've been tempted to pick it up and flick it back through the window of the culprit's car. While this may sound tempting, it's probably ill advised.
Here's a better approach:
First, we need to alert our visiting friends and families about the danger. All of us need to be bolder about speaking up.
Second, our town and county laws should carry stricter penalties for throwing burning embers on the ground. Penalties for such violations should be much more severe than just a fine for littering. Flicking butts is not simply littering.
Here in Rim country it should carry the same weight in fines and punishments as any other dangerous action that can take life and destroy property such as firing a gun carelessly or driving while intoxicated.