Controlled burns act as safeguard

Cannon Connections photo: Liliana Castillo Engine boss Anthony Cabales starts a test fire Saturday. The test fire is used to see if the fire and weather will behave like the fire department expected.

Liliana Castillo

The thick amber waves visible for miles across eastern New Mexico can quickly turn into fuel for a fire.

That’s why fire fighters at Cannon Air Force Base perform burns at Melrose Air Force Range.

Contractor Glacier Technologies and the Air Force teamed up for a prescribed burn of over 50 acres at the range Saturday.

Range Operation Officer Johnny Rogers said the burns get rid of brush that can feed a fire right out of firefighters’ control.

“We don’t want to burn down eastern New Mexico,” Rogers said.

The range is an inert bombing range used for training. Rogers said inert bombs have a charge that can start a fire. Other smaller live fire practiced at the range can also start fires, he said.

“Our main concern is safety,” Rogers said.

Rogers said the burn is constructed by a wildland fire working group. A crew of about 20 were on hand for the burn, including two fire engines and crews, ready with water to help control if needed.

The burn only takes place if weather conditions, such as wind and humidity, are right. Fire Boss Kerry Gregg with Glacier said Saturday’s weather was perfect.

To begin, the crew set a test fire in a small, controlled area, leading toward one of the several dirt roads that serve as fire breaks. The crew, lead by Gregg, watches how the small fire behaves before continuing.

“We want to see if it will behave the way we need it to do to achieve our objectives,” Gregg said.