By Gabriel Monte: CNJ staff writer
Fire and weather officials say a big grass fire in Melrose should raise a red flag for everyone across eastern New Mexico.
Strong winds Tuesday carried flames from a burning trash pit over dry grass, igniting a grass fire that ate its way across about 300 acres of grassland northwest of Melrose, according to Melrose Fire Chief Kenny Jacobs.
Jacobs says the fire comes at the start of fire season, when dry conditions and strong winds could start strong blazes.
Any spark could lead to massive fires, he said.
“The fire season is fixing to get bad for all the departments around here as far as grass fires go unless we get some rain,” he said.
Melrose got about .38 inches of rain last month, which was its first amount of precipitation for the year according to the National Weather Service.
Most of eastern New Mexico is under a red flag warning for fire hazards until Friday.
Conditions for the warning include 20 mph winds or greater, humidity below 15 percent, according to weather service Meteorologist Mark Fettit.
It took firefighters from Melrose and Fields about two hours to get Tuesday’s grass fire under control. The fire department has mutual aid agreements with surrounding cities and villages in case a fire grows beyond their control.
Jacobs said Melrose firefighters have already battled small grass fires on right of ways by roads and highways.
But Tuesday’s blaze was the biggest for the year.
During the fire season, Jacobs said residents should avoid igniting open flames anywhere in the county.
“People ought to understand it’s a dry situation and until there’s a ban passed by some type of government entity, there’s nothing that we can do to enforce,” he said.
The county introduced a open flames ordinance last year, but later stamped it out because of a state statue already in place.