Earth Wind Fire Water
©2002 Teresa Kellerman

The earth is scorched, the fires fed by the dry winds. The flames have ravaged the forest mountains, as Tucson and other Arizona communities approach 100 days without any rain.

"Leonard Gregg is unemployed, didn't graduate high school and is desperate for money... a walking statistic, embodying the social problems of most people on his reservation, and others... Gregg didn't expect the fire would get so big, according to the court documents. He said as much in court Sunday, asking the magistrate: 'Can I say I'm sorry for what I've done?' " - Arizona Republic July 1, 2002

"The man charged with starting the huge Rodeo Fire was fascinated by wildfires as a boy and always wanted to be a firefighter, his brother said Monday." - Arizona Daily Star July 2, 2002

"He admitted setting them because he was angry at his parents for what he called their drinking problems... Gregg, 29, struggled in school, making it only to the ninth grade and never picking up more than the basics of reading and math." - Arizona Republic July 1, 2002

"Wilson Gregg, 41, said he didn't believe his younger brother understood the implications of what he did... is probably confused by what is happening to him now." - Arizona Daily Star July 2, 2002

The Arizona fires held so much symbolism for me even before we found out about how they were started (see links below). I feel sometimes like I am constantly putting out fires, no time to rest, no time to have fun, no time for everyday events, just moving from one hot spot to another, trying to control the damage. Almost daily I get calls from parents who don't know what to do - lost, like the hiker who set one fire when trying desperately to seek the attention of a rescue helicopter. Every day I get several emails from families angry with frustration and individuals who are affected themselves but don't know how to get help - we know most of them don't qualify for services, and cannot get the attention of system agencies that would help if they could. I feel like I am constantly bombarded with the heat of anger/frustration/fear that creeps up on those who are trying to cope with alcohol's effects. Some of you can relate to this FAS Firefighter, I know.

My heart breaks for Leonard Gregg who will never be able to undo his terrible mistake. My heart breaks for the Apache Reservation, it will take more than 100 years to recover from the economic devastation, they may never recover from the spiritual pain. My heart breaks for the state of Arizona, we will have no new services for John and others who will need residential placement and suport services but are not yet in the "system." My heart breaks for all of our society, so many cannot see what many of us recognize - the devastating effects of what very possibly is another case of unrecognized Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. (Note I said "possibly," and remember that FASD is not a conviction, it is an explanation of why we see so many foolish crimes committed by individuals who did not - could not- foresee the potential destruction of the consequences of what they did.)

IF this is a case of unrecognized FASD, it is very sad. I was part of a team of trainers who went to the Apache Reservation about a year ago where we conducted a two-day training on FAS issues for state health personnel, care providers, and tribal leaders in the White Mountains. Too few have been educated, too many are affected. IF this fire setting is a case of unrecognized FASD, it underlies the need for everyone everywhere to become more aware of the subtle but serious disorders on the other end of the FAS spectrum. Those of us who DO see through FAS glasses have a responsibility to raise awareness where we can. I invite anyone who would like to undertake just one little, fun project for FAS DAY (Sept 9th) to look into the ideas presented on the FAS DAY page and Bonnie's FAS WORLD site:

I will be adding information to the FAS DAY site about a new project that you can participate in with very little investment of time and energy. I'll announce it on the list when I'm ready to make it public.

Back to putting out fires. My sweet friend Suzy and I had a chat today on the phone. We cried over the terrible damage that has been done to this beautiful state, to the Native Americans who were already struggling, and both said, IF this is a case of FASD, this tragedy very possibly could have been prevented, if alcohol effects had been recognized and if Leonard had received adequate support services. Suzy asked, "How many lives, homes and spirits have got to be destroyed before the evil of alcohol is recognized?" I second Suzy's plea. I strongly suspect that "firewater" (gift from the white man) is at the root of many of our culture's social ills and most of the Native American's current problems.

A search for "Fire Water" led me to this poem by Piri Thomas:

What is the pride of a man that walks tall 
And then sees himself start to fall, 
And finds in an instant understanding 
Of a painfu1 awareness of burning light. 
Wondering if this is the essence that life has given
    to his mold, 
While his guts full of some kind of indignity 
Pours out his anguish in nausea, 
But never his sense of dignity--
While he kneels on bended knees 
Puking while holding his guts with one hand 
And the other spread, holding his head up 
Full of pride to keep from falling into a nasty toilet bowl.
Maybe Leonard Gregg did not abuse alcohol, but it was clear that his actions in part were fueled by a rage against the alcohol abuse in his family, alcohol abuse that MAY be related to the poor judgment that led to this terrible act. I hate what alcohol has done to our children and their families of origin. I hate the way alcohol continues to burn away the health of our cultures, our families, our future, while others watch without seeing.

Now, will YOU, dear reader, make a commitment to do one small thing for FAS Day this year? Maybe have the bells ring in your church, college, or city hall - to ring out on September 9th at 9 a.m. like an alarm bell calling for all to "Wake Up!" Knowing that you are doing something to raise awareness will help me to fight this exhausting FAS Burn Out that gets to me sometimes.

Be the winds that clear away the smoke of denial about alcohol. Bring the water of truth that will squelch the many misunderstandings that abound regarding the nature of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders.


I think I need a drink

of water.

Here is the newspaper article about the young man who intentionally set the fire but without intention to do harm:
and another:
more insight:
"a walking statistic":
"Wilson Gregg, 41, said he didn't believe his younger brother understood the implications of what he probably confused by what is happening to him now."
Understanding the racial tension:
This reminds me of the title of my FAS presentation for courts: "Absence of Malice" - Their acts may very well be considered criminal, but their hearts are for the most part innocent.

Return to the FAS Community Resource Center