County has lost 8,333 acres to wildfires this year
Curtis C. Wynne
The weather is not only hot, it’s fiery hot.
The National Weather Service in Midland issued a heat advisory for southeastern New Mexico and much of West Texas, and the Lea County Deputy Fire Marshal Jeff Broom warned of a fire weather situation.
Broom said the number of grass land fire calls and the acreage burned in Lea County at this point in 2016, just through June, already well exceeds either of the past two full years.
“So far in 2016, … we’re at 8,333 acres lost throughout the county with a total of 72 wild land fire calls,” he said. “Put that into perspective, in 2015 (all year) we had a total of 529 acres lost with a total of 56 wild land fire calls.”
He added the numbers for 2014 included 6,481 acres lost for the entire year with 50 wild land fire calls.
“Unseasonably hot and dry weather will persist for the next week or so. Despite the heat there is a chance for a few afternoon storms,” the National Weather Service said. “However any storms will be capable of erratic strong gusty outflow winds. The energy release component shows a steep drying trend and initial attack type fires are expected to be trending up.”
Broom acknowledged an increase in the number of fire calls in the county, but most were quickly extinguished. The last large fire occurred June 15 when 1,250 acres burned near Tatum.
“We’ve had a lot of (fire) calls, but they have been relatively small with a potential of growing really good sized,” he said. “We’ve been lucky enough to have quick responses.”
Lightning cannot be prevented, but manmade causes of grassland fires include sparks from trailer chains or other objects dragging behind vehicles, smoking materials thrown out a car window, sparks from driving on a flat tire or parking a vehicle over dry vegetation. The occasional downed power line may also cause a spark.
Besides avoiding those manmade causes, Broom urged residents and travelers to call 9-1-1 immediately if they see any indication of a fire in the desert so it can be quickly extinguished.
Broom said the lack of additional fireworks restrictions over the recent holiday weekend was due to moisture received earlier.
“Lea County, oddly enough, had actually gotten out of the drought, for at least a little while,” he said. “I have a feeling we might be back there very soon, unless we start seeing a lot more moisture.”
Humidity is expected to drop to 15 percent or less this weekend with temperatures in the triple digits, according to the National Weather Service.
Extended periods of heat, winds and low humidity are ingredients for a fire weather designation. That combination results in higher probability of a wild land fire starting and growing.
The National Weather Service also expressed concern for heat related illness, recommending that you know the signs.
The National Safety Council and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention both have informative websites describing various forms of heat related illnesses and first aid suggestions.
Prevention of heat related illness generally involves drinking more water than you think you need, avoiding the diuretic effects of alcohol and caffeine, reducing strenuous activities, staying out of the sun during the hottest part of the day, wearing a hat and loose clothing and using sunscreen when you do go out, and replacing lost salt by drinking fruit juice or a sports drink, according to the National Safety Council.
Curtis Wynne may be contacted at 575-391-5436 or by email.