Extreme fire danger prompts closures

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LAFD cautions residents against campfires, fireworks; Santa Fe National Forest goes into Stage III restrictions

By Carol A. Clark

Los Alamos County and the majority of New Mexico are experiencing a severe drought, which is driving the highest escalation in fire restriction stages in years.

“This drought has caused the fuel moistures in our community to reach dangerously low single digit numbers,” said Fire Marshal/Assistant Fire Chief Michael Thompson. “Right now, the ignition potential for the forest has been determined to be 100 percent, meaning that every ember reaching combustible material has the potential to start a fire.”

Because conditions have reached such a critical level, the fire marshal requested that the Los Alamos County Council impose a ban on fireworks inside county limits to include aerial devices and ground audible devices such as firecrackers and chasers.

“The council imposed the ban,” Thompson said, adding that there are certain fireworks that are allowed, and without listing them all, a good rule of thumb is “if they fly higher than 10 feet or are louder than a cap gun, they are not allowed.”

The local community also is under a ban for smoking any tobacco products on trails and open spaces within the county.

Camp fires with either wood or charcoal at Camp May and the North Mesa picnic grounds also are banned.

“Charcoal fires in the provided grills at improved parks such as Urban Park in Los Alamos and Rover Park in White Rock are allowed with the proper disposal of the ashes produced by this activity,” he said. “Gas grills are allowed at all locations with due regard for safety and surroundings.”

While campfires on private property are presently allowed, Thompson cautions people to be observant of weather conditions and to pay special attention to sparks that can ignite fast moving fires during this severe drought.

“If you can do without having a campfire, that would be recommended during this dry period,” he said.  
The Overlook Park fireworks event will take place July 4 because those types of fireworks and that location are inherently safer and more manageable from a fire protection perspective, Thompson said.

Northern New Mexico tourist destinations also affected by the drought include the Santa Fe Forest and Bandelier National Monument.

The Santa Fe National Forest today enacted Stage III closures and the National Park Service is working in conjunction with those Stage III closures.

The backcountry and trails to all visitor uses at Bandelier will close at 8 a.m. Friday and remain closed until fire conditions improve, said Superintendent Jason Lott in a news release.

“We will assess the situation on a daily basis and determine when it is appropriate to reopen the backcountry trails,” Lott said.

Picnicking and hiking on the Main Loop Trail in Frijoles Canyon are not being affected and Bandelier’s visitor facilities, developed campgrounds and interpretive trails in Frijoles Canyon also will remain open.

Ranger guided walks are also expected to continue throughout the summer, Lott said, and while developed campgrounds will remain open, campfires are prohibited and a smoking ban has been implemented throughout the park.

Gov. Susana Martinez on Wednesday issued a plea to residents and visitors to do their part to ensure human-caused fires don't consume any more of the state's landscape.

The governor, who has seen firsthand some of the devastation left by this year's fires, described the around-the-clock efforts to stop them as exhausting.

"We understand the efforts, the sacrifice, the courage of the firefighters," she said.

"We've got to keep them in our prayers. They are going to continue to fight these fires for the next four or five weeks. We've got to do our part and make sure we do not become part of what is making our state dangerous and causing these fires."

For additional fire information, visit www.nmfireinfo.wordpress.com. New Mexico’s toll free fire restriction hotline is (877) 864-6985.

Wildfires burning in New Mexico:

Pacheco Canyon Fire
• 2 miles north of Santa Fe; approx. 5,000 acres; 5% contained

Windy Fire
• 3 miles east of McAllister; approx. 32,000 acres; 90% contained

Hatchita Fire
• 11 miles west of Hachita; approx. 5,000 acres; 50% contained

Godfrey Fire
• 14 miles south of Animas; appox. 11,000 acres; 70% contained