Rural firefighters hang on after worst fire season in years

By Casey Peacock: PNT Staff Writer

Fueled by strong winds, the Nov. 30 Melrose Bombing Range fire consumed over 27,000 acres of land and kick-started one of the worst wildland fire seasons that this area has seen in years. As it continued into August, the fire season stretched the limits of rural fire department budgets and stressed volunteer staffs.

Repairs are costing the Floyd Fire Department more than in the past with the increase of activity, said Leland Terry, Floyd Fire Chief. Repairs to one fire truck alone will cost the department over $10,000. Response to the increased number of calls has also caused more money to be spent for general repairs, said Terry.

“This has put us at a disadvantage because we’ve used up most of our budget,” said Terry.

With most of their operating budget used up, the Floyd Fire Department has had to cut back on equipment purchases, said Terry. Volunteers on the department, are working together to make as many repairs as possible themselves, in order to help save money. Assistance from the Village of Floyd has also helped with the added expenses, said Terry.

Additional funding for fuel price increases have also helped, he said.

For now, Terry does not foresee unsurmountable problems concerning the fire department budget. The situation could change quickly, he says.

“It depends on what the fire season brings,” Terry said. “It could cause problems if another bad season happens. At this time, we will be fine.”

Calls to respond to wildland fires in their respective districts as well as an increase in mutual aid to other departments has been a factor in the increase of calls for service being received by the Dora and Elida fire departments during the past few months , said officials.

“We had a lot more fire calls in the spring than the last five or six years, due to increased fuel,” said Adam Anthony, Elida Fire Chief.

Responding to grass fires that have totaled approximately 35,000 acres of land being consumed, Anthony stated that his department has not had to face any major hardships, because of the increase in calls.

For Elida, the biggest obstacle their department has experienced is its aging water tanker. According to Anthony, Elida’s newer model fire trucks are able to hold 3,000 gallons of water, while the tanker only holds 2,000 gallons.

“Our tanker can’t fill them (fire trucks) up at one time,” said Anthony.

Emergency calls to the Dora Volunteer Fire Department are up a considerable amount compared to normal, said Becky Fraze, village clerk of Dora. The fire department averages 50 to 60 emergency calls each year. This year that number has risen to 96, with another two months of the year remaining, said Fraze.

“It’s been a lot worse (this year),” said Fraze.

This year alone, Dora has responded to and helped fight over 135,000 acres of grass fires. Dora has been able to recoup some of their losses from funding that was received from the New Mexico State Forestry Division, said Fraze.