Public safety should be high priority

Only in New Mexico, a state entering its 12th year of drought and experiencing conditions so dry it's too dangerous to conduct many controlled burns, could the Legislature take a proposed fireworks ban sponsored by a firefighter and amend it once, substitute it twice, and then let it die in committee.

Get ready for one heckuva fire season.

The past two years have already stoked the record books, with three record-setting blazes. In fiscal 2011, almost 600,000 acres of state and private land burned. The first one, the Las Conchas fire, became the largest recorded in state history, burning more than 150,000 acres near Los Alamos.

Then last year the Whitewater Baldy Fire burned almost 300,000 acres in the Gila National Forest near Silver City, and the Little Bear Fire became the most destructive in recorded state history, destroying more than 250 buildings and causing more than $22 million in damages near Ruidoso.

Already this year, two months earlier than normal, the Joiner Fire has covered more than 150 acres near Capitan and the Bear Fire has charred the Sandia Mountain foothills.

New Mexico's reservoirs hold a fraction of their average — seven of the 13 have less than one-third and two have barely half. Snowpack is a skimpy one-fourth to three-fourths of average in all but the northwestern corner.

Fuel moisture levels are dropping steadily, meaning things are closing in on tinder-dry.

The Rio Grande isn't much of a trickle, much less grande, south of Los Lunas.

Yet municipalities — and the governor for that matter — still aren't able to ban the sale and use of all fireworks during extreme or severe drought.

No, it should not be easy to shut down an industry that people depend on for their livelihood. But neither should it be easy to carelessly burn down a state.

Since at least 2004, proposed ban mechanisms have relied on the National Fire Danger Rating System, current drought indices from the National Weather Service or relevant information from the U.S. Forest Service.

Those would have placed science and public safety above profit.

Yes, mismanagement when it comes to controlled burns, natural fires and rabid anti-logging efforts bear some of the blame for putting today's forests in danger.

But so will New Mexico's lawmakers if showers of sparks light up more than the New Mexico sky this fire season.

— Albuquerque Journal

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