A haunting curtain of smoke rose from the dry New Mexico ground in 2011, covering the horizon with dark soot and ash.
The Las Conchas fire burned hot and fast that summer. In its six-week run across northern New Mexico, the unusually intense blaze turned more than 150,000 acres of Ponderosa pine and other dry forest into a virtual moonscape, frosted in places with ankle-deep ash.
But it’s what came next that really galvanized Laura McCarthy, a Santa Fe-based conservation director for The Nature Conservancy. Like many that summer, McCarthy watched the fire with a sinking feeling.