Wildfires torch Land of Enchantment’s landscape

The Cannon Fire Department maintains constant readiness to fight fires ranging from household to rangeland wildfires. For more information on how the fire department operates, see pages 14 and 15.

Janet Taylor-Birkey

Known as the “Land of Enchantment,” New Mexico is also known as the land of high winds and burn bans. This lethal combination lends itself to the simple, but emphatic, advice of Bruce Ford, Assistant Chief for Fire Prevention, Cannon Fire and Emergency Services, when near wildfires; “Stay away from them!”

But it’s not just the risk of being burned that makes fires dangerous, said Mr. Ford, the smoke can be deadly. While smoke and fog share the characteristic of limited visibility, smoke has the added danger of entering air vents that can lead to choking, coughing or even death.
Mr. Ford said people who see a wildfire need to call 911, even if they think someone else has already called.
After calling 911, obeying law enforcement is of utmost importance in emergency situations, which may include evacuating your home. “[Authorities] are not telling you to leave for no reason,” said Mr. Ford.

While the fire may not look imminent, professionals involved may know of or suspect conditions such as wind direction to quickly change. “Wildfires are unpredictable. Variable conditions can alter the movement and intensity of a wild land fire with no warning,” said Rick Chandler, Cannon’s Wildland Fire Program Manager.

Curry County and surrounding areas suffering dry conditions and high winds have been issued a burn ban, as the lack of moisture and wind velocity can spread fire at the rate of 30 to 60 miles per hour. “You can’t outrun it,” said Mr. Ford, reiterating that people should not take chances with fires.
While fire can quickly get out of hand, preparatory measures can prevent fire emergencies. Mr. Ford said for those living out of the city limits, a cleared zone of 30 feet around their house is recommended.
Clearing the yard zone means keeping grass green, mowed and clear. Junk or tumbleweeds should not accumulate in yards. Community members living within the city limits should check alleys and dumpster areas. Do not allow the grass to grow high and keep an attached water hose nearby, said Mr. Ford.
The second way to prepare is to put irreplaceable valuables where they can be quickly retrieved if home occupants need to leave. If you know a fire is near, this could be the family vehicle.

For everyday living situations, Mr. Ford suggests having a “to-go” bag stocked with copies of legal papers, medications, emergency supplies and smaller valuables. Many Web sites give in-depth ideas for packing a to-go bag.
When fire emergencies are near, parents should know where their children are in case quick escape is needed, said Mr. Ford.
Those who have livestock should also consider a plan to quickly gather livestock and pets and know where they will be housed in case of emergency.
Time permitting, home dwellers may take a few steps which might lessen damage. “Close heavy curtains and remove lightweight curtains. Unlock doors for escape or access for the firefighters and turn on sprinklers to wet surfaces,” said Mr. Chandler.
And always, “Remember; material items are replaceable, lives are not,” Mr. Chandler stressed.