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Grass fires a concern this winter

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The summer grass fire season may be over, but Lea County officials are concerned about grass fires this winter.

Deputy Fire Marshall Jeff Broom said wildland fires burned a little more than 5,400 acres in 2017 by mid-November, compared to 12,986 acres burned in all of 2016.

“So, we definitely saw a decrease in the amount,” he said, “but the problem we’re having is the last information that I received — which is probably hard to believe right now — is the winter is supposed to be more dry with elevated temperatures.”

Tall grass throughout the county presents an abundance of fuel for prairie fires, particularly in dry seasons.

“What we’re actually seeing is an increased level of fuel, with fuel being grass, throughout the county. We have an increased level of chance for grass fires. They can start sooner than what they normally do,” Broom said.

With weather expected to get colder, the fire marshal pointed out, many people may believe the fire hazard is past. “Although technically we’re not in grass fire season, we’re looking at the potential winter weather we’re going to get,” he said. “We still have to be cognizant of the amount of fuel throughout the county.” He urged the public to keep an eye out and be ready to report even the suspicion of a possible fire in the county.

“If the citizens see smoke or anything they think could be a fire, please notify 911 so we can get engines and personnel there as soon as possible,” Broom said. “That’s the main way we’re going to, not eliminate, but to minimize the amount of damage caused during the grass fires.”

The almost 13,000 acres burned in 2016 was more than the total amount for the previous three years, but the 5,400 acres lost in 2017 returned the data to the approximately 5,000 acres of 2015.

Moisture during the summer months, when it comes, tends to reduce fire potential temporarily, but encourages desert foliage growth that becomes a concern for firefighters when the weather dries out, even in the winter.

Curtis Wynne may be contacted at reporter3@hobbsnews.

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