Fire officials warn of wildfire danger


By Thomas Garcia

QCS Senior Writer

Despite the moisture from Saturday’s snowfall, local fire officials urge residence to continue to observe the countywide open fire ban due to the risk from high fire danger across the region.

“You know it’s bad when a fire department does not want to attempt a controlled burn,” said Rex Stall, Village of Logan fire chief.

Stall said the Logan Fire Department had planned to conduct a few controlled burns this season, including a pile of dead tree branches. He said that is no longer the case due to the high danger of wildfires in the area.

“People need to understand that it is going to take only a few days for the moisture from the weekend to evaporate,” Stall  said. “The threat of wildfires is still very much real.”

“The danger of wildfires is due to the large amount of fuel (dry vegetation),” said Shane Warner, Tucumcari fire chief.

Warner said the vegetation in the area increased due to last year’s heavier-than-normal moisture and has since dried out. He said it takes little to ignite the dried vegetation and the fire can spread rapidly due to the conditions, which is why the city has imposed a burn ban.

Stall said his department has responded to or assisted on seven fire calls in the past month. He said the worst locally was a fire on March 16 that burned 350 acres and threatened several structures, including homes.

Stall said initially Logan requested aid from Nara Visa, District 3 and Porter fire departments to combat the fire that began three miles north on State Highway 39. He said as wind conditions worsened and the fire began to grow, they requested aid from the countywide task force to combat the fire.

“To date that is the worst fire to threaten residences and the Village of Logan,” Stall said.

Stall said the large amount of fuel for the wildfires has even changed the way the Logan department combats wildfires. He said in the past, the department would have come out fast and had trucks knock down the fire with water. With the large amount of fuel, the strategy is to slow down and knock out the fire completely to prevent hot spots from rekindling and igniting the surrounding vegetation.

Stall said the high fire conditions and number of fires already responded to by Logan and surrounding departments puts this fire season on track to be as bad as the 2011 wildfire season. He said in 2011, the Logan Fire Department responded to or assisted in 100,000 acres of wildfires spreading from Dalhart Texas, and Clayton.

Stall said the fire danger was so bad that a fire team from the New Mexico State Forestry Division out of Las Vegas was stationed in the region to assist in fighting the fires.

Stall said with the high fire danger across eastern New Mexico, a task force comprising the East Central Fire and EMS Association was established and has already drafted a letter requesting the state forestry units be stationed in Tucumcari for this season.

Stall said the association is made up of various departments throughout the region. He said the task force plans to meet at 2 p.m., Saturday at the Tucumcari Convention Center to finalize a plan for fighting a wildfire.

Stall said a strategy could include having the responding agency request aid from surrounding agencies before they arrive on the scene. He said this will shorten the arrival time of assisting units should the fire continue to grow.

Stall said the association is looking at using a three-tier system for fighting fires. He said this plan will include the responding agency, neighboring agencies and ensuring that all departments in the county send two trucks. Stall said the reason for only sending two trucks from a department is to ensure that each department has enough resources available should they need to respond to a fire in their own districts.

Stall said it is critical that people understand just how dangerous the threat of a wildfire is to our area. “It is a tinder box out there and it will take very little to set it off,” Stall said.

Stall said one example is the March 24 fire that began 11 miles east of Tucumcari along the Arch Hurley Conservancy District canal.

The district’s personnel were burning tumble weeds in the canals to prepare for the upcoming irrigation season, said Franklin McCasland, district manager.

McCasland said a hot ember from the tumble weeds must of popped over into dry vegetation. He said personnel had moved past that point when they noticed a fire had started.

Stall said the weather conditions on the day of that fire were calm. He said despite their not being a large amount of wind the fire still spread quickly and consumed a little more than 92 acres.

“Every department cannot stress enough to the residents just how dangerous the wildfire situation is in the city, county and in Eastern New Mexico,” Warner said. “It is so important and critical that the fire ban be observed and the residents do all they can to prevent a wildfire from starting.”

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