Officials stress high fire danger

By Argen Duncan and Sharna Johnson

With wind, dry conditions and warm weather, the area’s wildfire danger is high, fire officials say.

“There is a great chance, if everybody is not careful, that we could have a big grass fire again,” Portales Fire Department Battalion Chief Lance Hill said.

Rangeland has a lot of grass from past moisture, Hill said, meaning a buildup of fuel. Also, the area has received little precipitation since mid-October, weather has been warm, and the winds dry out the land even more, he continued.

A lot of moisture over a prolonged period of time would be necessary to decrease the fire danger, Hill said.

Clovis Fire Chief Ray Westerman said the number of grass fires this winter has been minimal but the concern is still there.

“The lack of moisture all winter and going into spring with the large amount of growth we had last year does make conditions prime (for fire) … We’ll always do the best we can, but Mother Nature sometimes throws us some twists,” Westerman said.

“I would certainly like to see some semblance of moisture in the ground.”

He said the department is being especially careful to keep staff and equipment ready this time of year in the event there is a large fire.

Residents should take extra care when burning trash to avoid windy days and to have water handy in case something goes wrong, Westerman said, and it is a good time to create a defensible area around homes and outbuildings by cutting grass and growth low.

Hill, who has seen a few small grassfires so far, said people should call the fire department or police dispatch if they want to do a controlled burn.

The call lets authorities know that particular fire is under control and gives them a chance to let the resident know if the state or county has enacted a burn ban.

After the burn, Hill said people need to soak the area because embers can blow into the grass for days.

For people who smoke in their vehicles, he said they should use ashtrays or a can containing some sort of liquid to extinguish cigarettes. In addition, Hill said all-terrain vehicle riders should check for grass buildup on their mufflers or catalytic converters, because it can occasionally cause a spark.