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Fire season races in with the winds

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LAFD: Officials caution there is still plenty of fuel out there

By Whitney Jones

It’s that time of the year again — fire season — and Los Alamos residents should be just as cautious of possible fire risks because much like last year weather conditions are predicted to once again be hot, windy and dry.

That’s what Los Alamos Deputy Fire Chief Justin Grider said, adding that the area can expect to experience instead of bursts of wind, more sustained winds this fire season.

He said Los Alamos National Laboratory, Park Service, Forest Service and county crews have been working on fire mitigation efforts in their respective jurisdictions since last year’s Las Conchas fire that burned more than 150,000 acres.

And while a lot of forest burned last summer, Grider warned there is still plenty of forest for another fire to engulf.

“You have to take action,” he said.

Most noticeable is the work along the truck route where Grider said crews cleaned up potential fire fuel, meaning taking down brush, weak trees, and dry leaves, from either side of the road to create what Grider called “defensible land.”

Areas where people go are more likely to be at the point of a fire ignition, he said, which is why they’ve concentrated on areas that are likely to catch fire.

“People are a big factor,” Grider said.

For example, a hot tail pipe or a discarded cigarette can catch roadside grass on fire, and because fire travels upward it could jump to a bush, which then leaps to a low-hanging branch and then engulfs the entire tree.

Lightning and power lines are other contributing factors.

In fact, Grider said crews have been cleaning up areas of Walnut Canyon because weakened trees were leaning dangerously close to the power lines.

But some county residents find the efforts to clear these areas disturbing. In an email to the Los Alamos Monitor, Dave Jones took issue with lab crews who cut down a 120-foot tall tree.

“It seems to me that it was quite random to pick a dozen or so trees here and there and then also take this amazingly beautiful (what I consider landmark),” he wrote.

Jones could not be reached for additional comment.

But Grider said the crews are very strategic when they’re looking at which trees to take down. He said the process has to be a balancing act between being good stewards of the land while providing public safety pointing to the difference between a healthy forest, which a person could walk through with ease and an unhealthy fuel rich forest, which has a lot of underbrush growth.

Los Alamos County Open Spaces Specialist Craig Martin said there’s a lot people can do at home to ensure their homes don’t catch fire either and that doesn’t always include chopping beloved trees.

“There’s always an alternative to fuel mitigation if they’re willing to give something else instead,” he said.
Martin said people can decrease the density of tree growth in their yards; conduct prescribed burns of yard waste and rake up pine needles every spring.

He said a big problem he sees is people dumping yard waste over their back fences into a canyon.

“It’s surprisingly common,” Martin said.

He said should a fire start in the canyon, because fire travels upwards, it may catch that hot and fast burning debris which could potentially reach a structure.

For more information about fire mitigation call the fire department at 505-667-4055; and for more information regarding fire safety in your yard visit firewise.org.