Two inches of rain does not make up for what we’ve missed — Corrales Fire Department Commander Tanya Lattin
The recent moisture is making life a bit easier for local fire officials amid severe drought conditions, but they’re adamant a couple afternoons worth of heavy rains won’t be enough this summer.
“Two inches of rain does not make up for what we’ve missed. It doesn’t make plants that have died come back to life, either,” Corrales Fire Department Commander Tanya Lattin said.
Sandoval County Fire, Bernalillo and Corrales extended their fireworks restrictions through late July. Rio Rancho’s current burn ban is set to expire on July 15, but Rio Rancho Fire and Rescue continues to monitor the city’s drought status and hasn’t ruled out the possibility of extending that ban.
‘Exceptional’ or ‘extreme’ drought conditions
According to U.S. Drought Monitor data, the entire southern half of the county from Rio Rancho to around the Jemez Springs area was under an exceptional drought as of June 23. The north end of the county was under an extreme drought as of June 23.
“There’s still a good chance that something kicks off,” Sandoval County Fire Chief Eric Masterson said. “With the conditions drying up, we could spot off a fire today still, even though we just had several good days of rain.”
Bernalillo Fire Chief Mike Carroll said he remains worried about dried-up vegetation combined with rising temperatures creating extra risk of fire.
“You can get a rainstorm in the morning, and they can be tinder-dry in the afternoon. (Grasses) can dry off very, very quickly. That’s why we’re being extremely cautious,” he said.
RRFR Battalion Chief Ryan Floersheim said the recent rainfall and extra relative humidity have worked out in the city’s favor, but he’s still mindful the outlook could change quickly.
“We’d like to leave ourselves an out and the ability to extend (the burn ban) if needed,” Floersheim said. “That’s the heavy burden and responsibility that we have: the weather still may take a turn today.”
Recent adjustments made
Lattin said Corrales started allowing some ground vegetation burn days as of Monday, and that burning will be permitted while there’s still moisture on the ground. However, those looking to engage must call the village for the burn day schedule and keep material within a small pile in a clear area.
Specific burn days depend on the weather forecast, she said.
“Is it going to be windy? Is it going to be hot, windy, no humidity? Those are the things we look at,” Lattin said. “We also have to look at the environmental aspect of it… You don’t want your pile to be super smoky, because that’s bad. That’s bad for the air, that’s bad for your neighbors. There’s a lot of things that go into determining that.”
Sandoval County’s looking at the impacts that allowing some open burning would have on communities and tribal partners before making its next move.
“We would love to a couple more weeks of good monsoonal flow, and I think we can probably start reconsidering it that way,” Masterson said, adding his department will have a better idea by mid July whether it can safely rescind restrictions.
Carroll said he will consider lifting restrictions once accumulated precipitation numbers reach a normal range.
Sandoval County averages about 13 inches of rain per year, according to bestplaces.net. Just under four inches span between July and August.
Keeping an eye on long-term forecast
Floersheim said he hopes to see additional rainy days over the next couple weeks.
“We hope that they’ll manifest themselves. Obviously, we also hope that those rains don’t bring with them lightning, which is another factor we have to take into consideration,” he said.
RRFR’s next move will depend on a myriad of factors like projected relative humidity over the next month, the number of expected days featuring rain and the long-term forecast regarding winds.
“We don’t take the decision of implementing the ban lightly. We realize that impacts everybody’s livelihoods, and especially their quality of life in the summer,” Floersheim said.