Officials get ready for wildfire season

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Los Alamos > Town remains under drought conditions

By Tris DeRoma

If the recent wildfire in the San Ildefonso Pueblo is any indication, Los Alamos residents need to keep a close eye out for wildfires this season. It’s only March when the fire broke out, and fire season lasts until July.
Local fire departments are also armed with the latest outlook from the Southwest Coordination Center. The SWCC, based in Albuquerque, serves as a focal point and resource center for fire departments in the region.
According to Justin Grider, a deputy chief for the Los Alamos Fire Department, The SWCC is saying Los Alamos is still under drought conditions and “they will probably intensify” he said, adding that will probably mean fire hazard conditions will intensify too.
The ironic thing he said is that it will probably be the recent rains that will contribute to those hazards. “In November and December we had a lot of precipitation, which was great, we were all thinking we were going to have a decent winter, with some good snowfall, but that did not take place,” he said. “With the moisture we did get, that caused things to grow a little bit, causing our fuel levels to increase. “It’s great that we get some green on the ground, but as it dries out, it’s just going to become more fuel for the fires. It’s reciprocal effect. You want the rain, but the rain promotes the growth and with the growth comes the wind that dries everything out, and then you’re back full circle.”
Though other SWCC projections show the season could go either way, it’s the wind that will be the ultimate factor. “The winds tend to dry up and suck the moisture out of our trees,” Grider said. “If there is no additional precipitation to replace that, it sets us up for a bad season.”
Phil Taylor, the emergency services coordinator for Los Alamos County, asks residents to see what’s in front of them and not the somewhat optimistic weather forecasts in the news.
“You should always hope for the best, but you should also be prepared for reality,” he said. “The predominant weather pattern for the next few years is going to be drought… which means extreme fire danger.”
If there’s one thing that drives people in Taylor’s position crazy is the people that say, because of the Las Conchas Fire, the Cerro Grande Fire, the Thompson Ridge Fire and the rest, there’s nothing left to burn.
“That is complete and utter nonsense,” Taylor said. “That’s the kind of delusion that can get you hurt. Walk any of the canyons. Go down by the truck route, Los Alamos Canyon by the ice rink, there’s plenty of dry fuel, and all it warrants is a spark and it all goes up like a Roman candle That should send a chill down everybody’s spine.”
Taylor also added that there’s also hope, but it depends on residents turning that fear into goal setting.
“What people ought to do is convert that fear and paranoia into positive action,” he said.
Fire and emergency officials remind residents that this year’s wildfire prevention event, title “Wildfire 2014” will be held at Fuller Lodge from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., April 19. Wildfire 2014 features booths, activities, free tools and toys from all the agencies in the Interagency Wildfire Management Team, including the U.S. and state forestry services, Los Alamos Emergency Management, LANL, and Bandelier National Monument.