Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and state forestry leaders urged New Mexicans to prepare for another devastating wildfire season this year by calling in fires if they see them and heeding other fire restrictions.
In a news conference Wednesday, they recommended residents in wooded areas take steps to make their property more fire-resistant and that drivers take care to avoid dragging a chain or anything that might create sparks.
“We need as much early preparation as possible,” Lujan Grisham said at the Rio Grande Nature Center in Albuquerque. “Any dry, flammable material needs to be moved away from your household. Folks who live in and near forest and wildlife areas need to be particularly meticulous about getting that work done.”
The warning follows last year’s catastrophic wildfires, when 1 million acres burned and northern New Mexico endured the largest fire in the state’s recorded history.
Big chunks of the state — especially the eastern plains and southeastern New Mexico — are gripped by drought, officials said, and 100 wildfires have already broken out so far this year.
The Rio Grande bosque through Albuquerque is also dry. Even the mountains of northern New Mexico, where generous snowfall has kept ski resorts open, will be at risk with a week or so of warm weather.
State Forester Laura McCarthy said the state faces challenges of “unprecedented scale” as it heads deeper into the fire season — the potential for fires so big they create their own weather and lightning.
About 85% of the wildfires in the state are human-caused, she said, making it all the more important to heed fire restrictions in open space and wilderness.
“With drier and warmer temperatures,” McCarthy said, “it only takes a simple mistake — a campfire that wasn’t put out correctly, tow chains on your truck that drag on the concrete and create sparks, a cigarette that’s lit and thrown out the window.”
Even the extra snowfall can contribute to fire risk, she said, by feeding vegetation that later serves as fuel.
“I’m not trying to be alarmist,” McCarthy said, “but what I do want to communicate is the scope of what we’re facing and what our firefighters are facing.”
Albuquerque Fire Chief Emily Jaramillo encouraged people walking in the bosque or local open space to carry a cell phone and provide the best description and location possible if they spot flames or something suspicious. In the city, she said, people can call 911 if they see a fire, or 311 or (505) 242-COPS if it isn’t an emergency.
“We really want people to understand, she said, “if you see something suspicious, we want you to say something.”
New Mexico is approaching the anniversary of the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire, which started when prescribed burns by the U.S. Forest Service grew out of control. The Hermits Peak fire began April 6 last year, Calf Canyon April 19.
They later merged into one fire, destroying 900 structures and charring 340,000 acres of national forest, Pecos Wilderness and private land. It was the largest fire in New Mexico’s recorded history.