Officials concerned fire season could run long

Freedom New Mexico: Alisa Boswell Portales Firefighter Chay Chenault checks fire equipment on one of the Portales fire trucks Tuesday afternoon. This fire season has marked one of the worst and the longest for eastern New Mexico and fire officials say it could last well into the fall.

Alisa Boswell

Usually, August and September would mean the end of fire season is approaching for Roosevelt County. But according to state and local fire officials, that may not be the case this year.

“This fire season is very comparable to the fire season in 2006,” said Dan Ware, spokesperson for the New Mexico Forestry Division. “It’s the drought; it’s the fact that we had a great year last year as far as moisture goes, which caused a lot of vegetation to grow, so when things dried up this year, there was a lot of fuel for fire.”

Ware said the 2006 fire season was one of the worst eastern New Mexico experienced and this year’s season far surpassed it.

He said Roosevelt County had 39 fires with 8,166 acres burned from July 2009 to July 2010. That compares to 24,124 acres burned in just the 12-month period July 2010 to July 2011, which has entailed 54 fires.

“Really the next two to three weeks are critical,” Ware said. “If we don’t get good moisture within the next two to three weeks and our monsoon season ends, our fire season could very well last through the fall.”

Portales Fire Chief Gary Nuckols said along with lack of moisture in Roosevelt County, unusually hot temperatures and constant high winds have contributed to the severity of this fire season.

“Some parts of New Mexico have had spots of rain but we’re still exceptionally dry here,” Nuckols said. “On an average, I’d say we’re up easily up 50 percent with our grass and wild land fires this season.”

Nuckols said since conditions are still dry for the area, he would caution Roosevelt County residents to continue to exercise extreme caution with any burning.

“I hope our citizens continue to be aware of the dangers that still exist and continue to be responsible with their burning,” Nuckols said. “That’s really all we can ask of our community and its residents.”

Ware said state fire bans were lifted last week because although eastern New Mexico is still extremely dry, conditions have improved slightly.

“Even though eastern New Mexico is not getting the rain the rest of the state is getting, the humidity is up a bit and the wind is down a bit so we are just not seeing the severity with fires that we were,” Ware said. “If conditions get worse than they are right now then we can go back into restrictions.”

Ware said the New Mexico monsoon season typically runs early July through August but this year, it began two weeks late and has provided eastern New Mexico little rain.

“Unless we get good moisture throughout eastern New Mexico, the fire danger will continue and we’ll be in fire season at least through late summer,” Ware said. “Maybe it will extend this year by a couple of weeks since it was late by a couple of weeks. We can only hope.”