Autumn is winding its way through the San Juan Basin with the final wave of orange and gold tree colors, and as always, it's a beautiful sight to behold. I've enjoyed every minute of it.

Someone asked me recently why the trees turn such colors in the fall.

The explanation I found was that, as with anything, heat expands and cold contracts.

Meaning, as the cooler weather envelops the trees on a consistent basis, the trees contract, or at least the arteries that flow inside them from root to leaf are constricted and slow down the flow of needed fluids for growth.

The leaves, lacking the summertime plentiful flow of what amounts to food, whither, turning colors before they finally lose all strength and fall from the tree.

The warm weather returns in the spring, the "juice flow" loosens up again inside the tree and freely feeds every limb, and viola! The leaves return healthy and green in time for another summer shade service.

OK, perhaps it's not that simple in true biological terms.

But that's the way I understood it, and it made sense to me.

Whatever, you cannot deny the beauty of autumn.

***

If you've never lost a home to fire, you simply can't imagine the pain and agony it causes.

A big salute and God's Speed goes out to our firefighters traveling to California to help fight the raging wildfires there, and to those covering for them here at home.


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At least 14 local firefighters are battling the California blazes, which have prompted one of the largest evacuations in American history as more than 1 million people were forced to flee.

Seeing people lose their home is a painful thing to watch.

My wife and I, as young newlyweds, found ourselves homeless one winter night when the apartment complex we lived in caught fire. We had barely a few seconds to dump our trash cans out in the floor and fill them with precious memory albums and grandmother's china before being forced to stand in the parking lot and pray for firefighters to save what little we had.

Fortunately, in our case, they did. We lost quite a bit to smoke and water damage, but not everything, as was the case with our neighbors.

It makes you think.

If I have only one arm-load of belongings to seize in 10 seconds, what do I grab?

Obviously, your family.

Fire monsters are evil.

They do tricky things mighty quick, whether inside a home or racing through a forest. I've been involved in both, and I have seen surprises every time.

Don't be complacent when you hear the annual campaigns for replacing batteries in your smoke alarms. I've seen such warning devices save more than one life, and I've seen complacency and unplugged alarms lead to more than one disaster.

Meanwhile, best wishes to those with ties in California. It's a troublesome thing to watch.

***

Speaking of fires, our prayers and thoughts also go out to the family and friends of Farmington race car driver Ryan Bard, who died tragically at the age of 23 in a race accident Sunday afternoon in Abilene, Texas.

Perhaps you saw the story in Wednesday's edition of the newspaper.

Ryan's car flipped and crashed, spilling fuel into the driver's compartment and catching fire with him in it.

His father and firefighters desperately tried to rescue Ryan, but to no avail.

Ryan was a popular driver at the Aztec track and was known by many in the community.

We share our deepest sympathies with the family and with the entire racing community that knew him so well.

***

Another tragedy among too many of late that claimed young lives was the one in which a young man was killed fleeing from police.

Kyle Drake, 24, Farmington, had many things in life waiting ahead of him.

He apparently made one very bad decision, however, when police tried to pull him over for a traffic violation and he chose to flee.

Police are not trained to ignore people who speed away like that, and the ensuing pursuit eventually led to Kyle wrecking and ending his life in an avoidable accident.

Perhaps Kyle can still speak to others today, youth and adults, who find themselves in a similar situation when they might have made a mistake and see flashing lights behind them.

The first rule of thumb in getting out of a hole is to stop digging.

If you make a mistake, don't make it worse by trying to run from it.

Certainly, not over a simple traffic violation that may or may not cost you a few bucks and a simpler lesson learned.

Again, we share our sympathies with the local family of a lost loved one, and perhaps others will learn life-saving lessons from and remember this tragedy.

***

Let's end with a couple of kudos here.

First, how about that woman in New York who stopped at someone's trash pile to pick up a discarded painting, and it turns out it might be worth $1 million?

Who says art doesn't pay?

And talking about one person's trash being another's treasure... wow.

Also, kudos to a local crusader, Erin Hourihan, executive director of Childhaven.

Erin was named a recipient of the 2007 Voices for Children Award.

Anyone who donates one minute of time or one dollar of money to Childhaven is a hero in my book, as this local mission is all about helping kids who very much need help.

Erin does a lot more than give one minute or one dollar. This is a well-earned award, and everyone associated with Childhaven should feel a part of it.

Congratulations and thank you, Erin and the staff at Childhaven!

Keep making a difference.

Troy Turner is the editor of The Daily Times. He can be contacted at P.O. Box 450, Farmington, N.M., 87499; or at tturner@daily-times.com.