Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham speaks at the Rio Grande Nature Center State Park on March 29, 2023 about wildfire awareness and prevention. New Mexico State Forester Laura McCarthy and DHSEM Secretary Ali Rye sit to her left. (Photo by Megan Gleason / Source NM)
Warmer days and windy breezes are greeting people outside again, and spring is rolling through New Mexico. It’s also a notification that fire season could kick up anytime soon.
During New Mexico’s Wildfire Awareness Week, state leaders gathered at the Rio Grande Nature Center State Park in Albuquerque on Wednesday to discuss how to prevent out-of-control fires.
A majority of wildfires are human-caused. New Mexico’s largest wildfire in recorded history was caused by the federal government.
Two prescribed burns merged nearly a year ago to become the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Fire. Many are still struggling to recover from that. One of the big mistakes with the northern prescribed burns that turned into that fire were extreme weather conditions that didn’t fall within safe parameters.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham called out the feds on Wednesday, telling them to follow new rules the U.S. Forest Service set for prescribed burns. Many of the changes made last September have to do with ensuring that the agency is lighting fires in safe conditions.
“We need constant reminders for people to report fires, to pay attention, to not start fires, to be clear about the wind,” Lujan Grisham said. “Maybe it’s a message to our federal partners — a reminder that your new rules, we expect you to follow them.”
Communities in southern New Mexico are also still trying to come back from the Black Fire. In the process of doing so, the state is helping acequia associations clean out debris, which can lessen the risk of wildfires getting out of control with the dry materials.
Lujan Grisham said other New Mexicans can do the same by clearing away dry, flammable materials like leaves or wood at their households.
She said it’s also up to leaders all over the state to be doing wildfire prevention work, and taking advantage of state and federal grants for those efforts. Some organizations around the state just got federal grants for prevention measures like thinning.
Many communities still don’t have recovery dollars to repair destruction caused by fires last year.
Lujan Grisham also hasn’t yet signed legislation that would ban prescribed burns when the National Weather Service issues a red flag warning, meaning there are extreme weather conditions. There have already been red flag days in New Mexico this year.
Lujan Grisham along with the other state officials reiterated that they want this fire season to be a quiet one.
“Let’s make this the easiest, least dramatic wildfire season, if we can, in the history of the state of New Mexico,” Lujan Grisham said. “Quite frankly, that’s what we all deserve.”
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