Firefighters brace for bad fire season

By Thomas Garcia: PNT Staff Reporter

Area fire departments are preparing for what they consider the height of fire season.

High winds and low precipitation are the culprits that fire officials say are contributing to the high fire danger in Roosevelt and Curry counties.

“The elements for a bad wildfire are present for the surrounding areas,” said John Bridges, Portales fire chief. “High grass growth from last year’s rains and dry conditions make a hazardous situation for area residents.”

This year’s rainfall from January through March in Portales and Clovis is more than seven inches less compared to rainfall averages recorded by the National Weather Service in Albuquerque in 2007, said Brent Wachter Fire Weather Forecaster for NWSA.

The low humidity and potential for high winds has the NWSA issuing a fire watch for the east-central plains which include Portales and Clovis for Tuesday afternoon with potential for additional watches through Sunday, Wacther said.

“This is a critical week of fire danger for Portales and Clovis with no relief from rain showers in sight,” Wacther said.

Even the rain showers themselves pose a fire threat to the area with the possibilities of lightning strikes, Bridges said.

“Last year there were three fires started from lighting from one storm,” Bridges said.

With the increasing danger for wildfire the need for public education is key to wildfire prevention, said Paul Luscombe Dora fire chief.

“There is no way to avoid the danger of wildfires living in a rural area as we do,” Luscombe said. “Educating the communities about the dangers of wildfires helps eliminate a lot of the human factor when it comes to fires.”

Dora was one of the local fire departments that sent two fire units two weeks ago to help fight the wildfire near Hobbs and Lovington that spanned over 135,000 acres, Luscombe said.

All the departments are on pins and needles every time a call goes out for a fire, Luscombe said.

Residents should follow the burn bans that have been set by their county officials, Bridges said. If burning is necessary the proper departments should be alerted about the controlled burn and proper measures should be taken to ensure that the fire does not grow out of control.

“Everybody needs to understand that because of the dry conditions, a fire could start from numerous ways especially with the wind,” said Clovis Fire Chief Ray Westerman.

On extremely windy days additional personnel is placed on standby. Another thing that helps is a quick and timely response from additional agencies to combat the fire early on, Westerman said.

One of the dangers of wildfires growing out of control is the spread from grasslands and fields into residential areas, Bridges said.

“One way to help prevent the spread of fire from open range to structures is to create a defensible space,” Bridges said. “Trimming the trees back and keeping the grass growth down near a residence are a few steps that can be taken to prevent a wildfire from spreading to structures.”