Officials warn of fire danger

Freedom New Mexico: Liliana Castillo Clovis fire fighter Jarod Baldwin said the Clovis Fire Department has trucks that are used for grass fires. He said the truck pictured above can carry 2,000 pounds of water and is used to supply smaller trucks with water in the case of a rural or wilderness fire where there is not access to a fire hydrant.

Alisa Boswell

Fire dangers have been prominent in Curry and Roosevelt counties this winter with extensive winds and little to no moisture. With this in mind, Chief Ray Westerman of the Clovis Fire Department and Chief Gary Nuckols of the Portales Fire Department have been spreading the word about increased dangers they face and precautions they can take to prevent those dangers.

“Normally we have some kind of moisture but at this point, there is pretty much none left in the ground,” Westerman said. “The fire conditions for Curry County and surrounding areas are extreme.”

Westerman said Curry County has been fortunate to have experienced only small grass fires so far, the largest and most recent being a fire at Ned Houk Park, north of Clovis. He said winds were between 50 and 60 mph that day.

“Any fire under those conditions is going to be extreme,” Westerman said. “One thing people can do is to keep the brush and grass around their structures at a short level, because it removes the fuel from the area, so to speak, and makes it less likely the structure will burn.”

With the exception of two fires south of Elida, Nuckols said Roosevelt County has also been fortunate to have only small grass fires.

“With these fires around us, it’s definitely an indicator that we are in a high danger time with fire,” Nuckols said. “It’s a tinderbox out there right now.”

Westerman and Nuckols both said wind conditions are one of the most important factors for local residents to be aware of when exercising fire safety.

Westerman said the warmer weather is going to create more outside activities, such as welding, building fences and driving through fields, all of which could start fires.

“We just need to exercise some precautions with these things due to the dry weather conditions that we have,” Westerman said. “There are lots of different ways a fire can start.”

Nuckols said there are unavoidable naturally caused fires, such as ones started by lightning and power lines breaking in windy conditions. But there are precautions area residents can take to avoid man-made fires.

“Be aware of weather forecasts, especially wind forecasts,” Nuckols said. “It’s a very important prevention factor.”

Nuckols said people should never throw cigarettes out of car windows, putting them out in containers instead.

He said when doing controlled burnings of trash and other materials and when using tools in rural areas, keep water sources nearby, have someone watch their progress, don’t burn or use tools that spark on windy days and make sure to know the location of any fires in the area and which direction those fires are headed.

He also said people need to make a defensive area around their homes where there are no flammable items stacked nearby and trees next to the home are trimmed.

“Be aware of your surroundings,” Nuckols said. “The weather, the wind, all of the factors that put us at high risk, whether man-made or naturally caused.”

Westerman said another factor with burning on windy days is the embers can carry in the wind and start a fire somewhere else.

“People can just use common sense in day to day activities,” Westerman said. “And just be aware of their surroundings and be fire conscious. That goes a long way.”