Additional fire restrictions possible for county

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By Gabriel Vasquez

Because of increasing temperatures and dry conditions, fire restrictions may go into effect in Los Alamos County as soon as next week.

Special permits for open burning are already being negated to area businesses and other local organizations.

“Sometime next week I imagine you’ll see restrictions in this area,” said Doug Tucker, deputy fire chief for Los Alamos County. “When fuel moistures start getting really low, that’s usually our indication to start imposing those restrictions.”

Fuel moistures are assessed by estimating the moisture level of the vegetation in a selected area. The more water in the vegetation, the more heat will be required to evaporate before ignition can occur. Less moisture in the vegetation requires less heat, and thus creates more rapid burning conditions.

“While the fire danger in northwest New Mexico has been much lighter this year than in the rest of the state, continued lack of moisture is quickly drying out fuels so we may see incidents of fire increase until monsoonal moisture returns to the state,” said Dan Ware, spokesman for the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department.

Low fuel moistures are a statewide trend around this time of year, and conditions can be especially dangerous when coupled with the high wind speeds native to New Mexico. Monsoon season typically arrives in July and lasts until the end of August.

“We’re really watching the weather and what’s happening right now,” Tucker said. “Since we’re not getting a lot of recovery, the fuel temperatures are starting to rise.”

According to Ware, statewide, there have been 619 reports of fire to New Mexico State Forestry on state and private land. The fires have burned approximately 260,762 acres.

On Friday, New Mexico State Forestry issued additional restrictions for an already-dry southwest part of New Mexico. Restrictions on smoking, campfires and open-fires have been imposed on Catron, Doña Ana, Grant, Hidalgo, Luna, Sierra and Socorro Counties.

Under state law, anyone found in violation of these restrictions faces up to a $1,000 fine and up 364 days in jail.

The restrictions mandate smoking only in enclosed buildings, developed recreation areas, and within structures or vehicles equipped with ashtrays.

Campfires are banned in all open areas including New Mexico State Parks, with the exception of cooking or heating devices that use kerosene, white gas or propane in an area cleared for at least 30 feet or with a water source, and open-burning has been limited to irrigated croplands with special permits.

Tucker said the decision to impose similar restrictions in Los Alamos County, should the low fuel moisture continue, will be made in conjunction with Los Alamos National Laboratory and the state’s forest service.