A Rio Rancho firefighter battles a fire inside the Rio Rancho bosque in the Willow Creek Trail area last year. (Rio Rancho Fire and Rescue Courtesy Photo)
Each spring Rio Rancho Fire and Rescue’s 18-member Wildland Strike Team starts amping up for the fire season.
“We do get excited for the upcoming season,” Capt. Robert Bacon said. “We look at the rains and the snows over the winter (and) last fall to see what might be happening this summer. We do trainings to get us ready for the season.”
One way they prepare is by taking four, 45-minute hikes wearing boots and carrying 45-pound backpacks. A goal of this drill is to help them deal with the inclines on some of the terrains they could be fighting a fire on.
“It’s a lot of hunch-over work when you are digging lines, things like that,” firefighter Adam Archuleta said.
But the exercise prepares them for more.
“I think that the mixture of the heat and the weight is kind of what gets you, especially when you’re down south dealing with 118-degree temperatures outside,” he said. “That’s usually what you’re dealing with before you even get on the fire lines and that’s an adjustment. But our guys handle that very well.”
Throughout the year, firefighters can respond to any number of calls, anywhere. But their priority is protecting Rio Rancho.
A year ago, they responded to a fire in the Willow Creek Trail area of the Rio Grande bosque to ensure that it did not spread. This year they will continue to be vigilant.
The department is making sure it’s prepped, Bacon said.
Ten days before the Fourth of July, crews will go on patrol of the bosque and west mesa areas to check for any brush fires caused by fireworks and to ensure people are complying with the burn rules.
To check on burn statuses, call 505-891-7268.
If there are wildland fires outside of Rio Rancho, and firefighters are available to be deployed, they can go to a number of places.
Last year, a team was sent to northern California with a bulldozer and support truck.
If there is a wildfire in New Mexico, the state sends the firefighter a text with information telling them when they need to leave and where they have to go.
“It can be at a drop of the hat,” Archuleta said. “We stay packed and ready for the call.”
The state pays for the firefighter deployment, the apparatus and “backfill for personnel” when the firefighters are away, DeFillippo said.
Firefighters can be gone for at least two weeks and work as many as 16- and 17-hour days in remote places and ungodly conditions.
Archuleta has been deployed to places as far away as Oregon.
There are times firefighters may have to hike 5-10 miles just to get to the fire because it is in an area that is not accessible to vehicles, he said.
Firefighters may deal with other obstacles like water scarcity.
“In the city, we’re fortunate to have water resources, but when we get to fires in the mountains, we don’t have large amounts of water,” Archuleta said. “So that’s where fighting fire with fire kind of comes into play.
“I think that kind of throws people off that we’re able to control (the) fire lines by using fire.”
Fire season predictions
Firefighters may have a busy season ahead.
Parts of Sandoval County are now either in a severe or extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
And things are not expected to improve in the coming weeks.
The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts an abnormally parched May and June that could spark the chances for wildfires in the Land of Enchantment.
“Hopefully monsoons will come and wet everything down,” DeFillippo said. “As long as it stays wet, it stays green. When it dries out quickly, it becomes more of a fire threat.”
NOAA’s latest forecast offers a glimmer of hope.
The arrival of monsoon season, which typically occurs between June 15 and Sept. 30, “will herald an end of the significant fire season for the Southwest area,” NOAA’s April seasonal outlook executive summary states.