- Interagency Partners Stress Preparedness and Prevention Ahead of the 2014 Fire Season
ALBUQUERQUE—Gov. Susana Martinez has announced that March 30 through April 5 is New Mexico Wildfire Awareness Week, and calls upon residents and visitors to continue doing their part to prevent and be prepared for wildfires.
“Continuing historic drought conditions heighten the risk of what already has the potential to be another active and dangerous wildfire season,” Martinez said. “Last year’s wildfire season was very active and destructive, and there are many important steps we as New Mexicans can take at state, federal, tribal, local and individual levels to prevent and be prepared for wildfires. Preparedness is a key element this year as firefighters and agencies across the state stand ready to protect our communities and natural resources from wildfires.”
Various federal, state, tribal and local agency representatives joined Martinez to discuss preparations for the upcoming fire season and how residents can best prevent human-caused wildfires and how we must all be prepared.
The 2013 fire season was brief but very active, with numerous fires. More than 190,000 burned acres on public and private lands. The Silver, Thompson Ridge and Tres Lagunas Fires forced the evacuation of hundreds of residents from their homes.
Since the 2013 fire season, interagency partners have worked to train hundreds of firefighters in wildland fire skills, identify grant funding for equipment and teach landowners how to reduce their wildfire threat by reducing overabundant vegetation on their property.
So far this year, nearly 100 fires have burned close to 6,000 acres of state and private land, including the Pino Fire, which began last Friday and crews are still working on. This fire was human-caused and the landowner has been issued a citation for the improper use of fire. As seen with the Pino Fire, failure to respect the potential damage that fire can cause has serious consequences. Those consequences can be financial, or include jail time, damage to property, injury or even loss of life.
There are many steps that families and communities can take to reduce the potential for loss of life and property due to wildfires, including:
- Create a 30-foot defensible space zone around the home;
- Pile firewood and other flammables well away from home and other structures;
- Keep access roads free of debris and vegetation to improve access and escape in case of fire;
- Remove needles and other debris from roofs and gutters;
- Consider constructing or renovating with fire resistant building materials;
- Prune trees near structures and remove excess ground fuels such as fallen needles, cones and branches; and
- Participate in programs such as “Firewise Communities USA,” “Ready, Set, Go!” and “Fire Adapted Communities”
While enjoying New Mexico’s many forested private and public lands, it is suggested that residents and visitors:
- Know Before You Go: Call the statewide toll-free Fire Restriction Hotline at 1.877.864.6985 or log onto www.nmfireinfo.com for a link to an active fire restriction map;
- Build a campfire in areas approved only such as established campgrounds with fire grills pits;
- Never leave a campfire unattended, be sure it is dead out and cold to the touch before leaving;
- Never park vehicles in tall grass or shrubs where fires can start because hot catalytic converters may come in contact with dry vegetation;
- Never toss lit cigarettes out of cars;
- Abide by all smoking and fire restrictions on public and private lands; and
- Keep in mind that the use of fireworks is always prohibited on all public lands including state parks and national forests.
For more information on active wildfire, wildfire prevention tips and programs and how to create defensible space to protect lives and property, log onto: www.nmfireinfo.com, inciweb.nwcg.gov or www.firewise.org. For more information on preparing your homes and families, visit the New Mexico Department of Homeland Security & Emergency Management’s Family Preparedness Guide.
The New Mexico Department of Health suggests New Mexicans use the 5-3-1 Mile Visibility Method to decide when it’s safe to be outside. The New Mexico Environmental Public Health Tracking website provides information on smoke safety and how to avoid breathing in smoke at https://nmtracking.org/fire.
The American Red Cross also has an app available with for national active fire and fire preparedness information that is available for free in the iTunes or Google Play Stores.
The fiscal year 2015 state budget that the Governor signed includes many initiatives to better prepare for, and coordinate response to, what may be an unusually active and dangerous 2014 wildfire season. Among these are: funding to make the “Returning Heroes” program permanent, which hires and trains military veterans as wild-land firefighters.
During the program’s pilot phase in 2013, these fire crews were assigned to more than a dozen wildfires in New Mexico and were dispatched to other fires in the Western United States. The program is a collaborative effort between New Mexico State Forestry, the Department of Veterans Services, the Department of Corrections and the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions.
The state budget signed by Martinez also includes nearly $10 million in funding for projects such as watershed restoration and protection, forest thinning in wild-land urban interface areas, as well as other capital improvement projects designed to help further protect New Mexico’s families, communities and natural resources.