Dry conditions fuel grass fires

Blackened rangeland near Floyd on Thursday shows how close Wednesday’s 35,000-acre fire came to the eastern New Mexico town. The Air Force is investigating to determine the cause of the blaze, which began on the Melrose Bombing Range. (AP photo)

By Tony Parra: Freedom Newspapers

Portales Fire Chief Darwin Chenault said Wednesday’s massive grass fire that swept through the Melrose Bombing Range and south toward Floyd should serve as a reminder to control outdoor burning.

Fire conditions have become critical in the past month, say fire experts, with a wet summer that provided lots of fuel and dry conditions in November priming the tinder box.

Chenault said fire season for Roosevelt County is from November to May.

The Portales Fire Department tended to grass fire calls Friday during high winds, but nothing got as far out of control as Wednesday’s fire.

“I encourage people to check their local weather before burning outside,” Chenault said. “I would advise against burning in winds of more than 10 mph.”

Because of the high winds and the lack of field cover after Wednesday’s fire, the Floyd Highway was closed from about 2:30 p.m. to sundown due to blowing dust, which reduced visibility, according to Portales Police Capt. Lonnie Berry.

Meanwhile, Cannon Air Force Base officials say they’re still investigating the cause of Wednesday’s large grass fire that charred an estimated 35,000 acres.

“It’s safe to say the fire started on the range,” Capt. Andre Kok of Cannon’s Public Affairs Office. He said he does not know how the fire started and the investigation continues.
CAFB officials have been taking claims from people who suffered property damage as a result of the fire.

As of 3 p.m. on Friday, 28 people have taken claim forms and the military has conducted 13 site inspections related to Wednesday’s fire.

Kok said Air Force officials will be at Floyd Community Center from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. today for anyone wanting to report damage.

Kok said the deadline for filing a claim is Nov. 30, 2007.
“Preliminary indications are that substantiated claims will likely be payable (by the Air Force),” Kok said.

Dan Ware, public relations coordinator for the New Mexico State Forestry Division, said Friday he doesn’t have a final cost estimate for the damages.

Ware said there still needs to be a lot of information from all agencies involved and more area surveys need to be conducted. He said the fire left a burned area of 20 miles long with some spots being two miles wide.

Chuck Haman, Roosevelt County management coordinator, said fire department officials sent forms to the New Mexico State Forestry Division to receive money for the costs in fighting the fire.

Chenault said only a tremendous effort from firefighters, road crews, law enforcement members, volunteers saved Floyd.

“There was a lot of effort to save property,” Chenault said. “We saved 20 occupied houses that were directly in the path and 30 or 40 (occupied houses) that were in danger.”

Chenault said it hurts him not to have been able to save L.A. Davis’ house. Davis house was the only reported occupied house lost to the fire.

The Clovis Fire Department responded to two fires Wednesday.

Freedom Newspaper staff writer Andy Jackson contributed to this report.