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ALBUQUERQUE (AP) — Thousands of square miles of drought-stricken New Mexico are now off-limits to fireworks, open fires and smoking until further notice.
Land Commissioner Ray Powell put the state on notice Wednesday, saying his decision to prohibit potential fire-starting activities on state trust land is aimed at preventing the kind of catastrophic wildfires that raced through New Mexico’s tinder dry forests and grasslands a couple of years ago. Powell pointed to the severe drought, the potential for gusty winds and dense vegetation around the state.
“The past three years have been some of the driest and warmest on record,” he said. “It is important to do what we can to prevent unplanned, human-caused fires.”
The fire season in New Mexico is already underway. Earlier this month, there were a few brush fires over the course of two days in the Rio Grande Valley of central New Mexico, fires in the Gila National Forest in the southwest and several spot fires in the overgrown mountains east of Albuquerque.
Bernalillo County fire officials blamed the fires in the East Mountains on fireworks.
“With our dry, windy conditions and the drought situation, these small fires could have grown into a major fire very quickly,” County Fire Marshal Chris Gober said.
This winter has been much drier than normal for New Mexico and is on track to be the third driest winter on record, according to the National Weather Service. Precipitation is only 35 percent of normal, snowpack is dismal across all of New Mexico’s mountain ranges and reservoirs remain low.
Aside from the fireworks and smoking prohibitions, Powell said the State Land Office is trying to get a jump on the problem through forest thinning projects and prescribed fires aimed at reducing fuel loads.