Home Local News Lea County issues fire ban and use of fireworks for next 30 days

Lea County issues fire ban and use of fireworks for next 30 days

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LOVINGTON — Lea County Commissioners declared an emergency fire ban Thursday, May 12.

With exceptions, the ban prohibits smoking, fireworks, campfires and open burning of any kind.

By resolution set to expire in 30 days, commissioners agreed to follow prohibitions established last month by state and federal agencies. The ban will be extended, if necessary, they said.

More than 30,000 acres of Lea County already have burned this year, even before the historically normal fire season began, according to Lorenzo Velasquez, the county’s emergency director.

With respect to the coming Independence Day celebrations, Velasquez quickly pointed out, “We are not stopping the sale of fireworks. All we’re doing is stopping (people) from using (fireworks).”

Introducing the resolution for the commissioners’ consideration, Velasquez said, “With this declaration, what we’d like to do is adopt what the New Mexico State Forestry Service has already put in place, and the BLM (Bureau of Land Management).”

Aware firefighters in northern New Mexico continue to fight the nation’s largest wildland fire, approaching a state record 300,000 acres near Las Vegas — where two separate large fires combined in recent days — Velasquez expressed concern for the county and local volunteers who have already donated more than 3,000 man-hours to controlling fires in Lea County this year.

The Forestry Division of the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and National Resources Department cited high temperatures, low humidity, high winds, and the abundance of dry fuels, all present in Lea County as well.

“Fire danger throughout much of New Mexico is high. Fire incidents for all wild-land fire agencies are increasing daily,” the Forestry Division said in its April 22 prohibition notice.

The Roswell-based Pecos District Office of the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management also issued restrictions on April 28 to include federal lands in Lea County.

Lea County’s emergency ban incorporates those restrictions.

“The BLM rules are a little more strict,” Velasquez said. “They cannot possess or discharge any fireworks on BLM land. The one from New Mexico State Forestry is they are allowing charcoal grills, wood grills, coal stoves within their yards. We’re not restricting that.

“We are trying to stop the wildfires any way possible. If you’re going to smoke in your vehicle, put your cigarette out in your ashtray,” Velasquez said.

In response to Commission Chairman Dean Jackson’s question about enforcement, Velasquez said, “We receive some calls. It’s out in the middle of nowhere and the people think, ‘It’s my land; I can do this.’ We show them a copy of our ordinance about what’s going on and they need a permit. … To be able to burn, whether it be trash or weeds, they still need a permit.”

Exceptions to the bans include the potential for receiving burn permits from local agencies.

“What the burn permit does — we go over there, look at the environment and explain to them this is too dangerous, or this is safe, and this is what we want you to do before you can burn,” Velasquez said.

Commissioner Jonathan Sena sought to clarify the county’s ban is strictly in the county outside the corporate limits of Tatum, Lovington, Hobbs, Eunice and Jal.

“So, just to clarify, due to the fire conditions, outside the city limits in Lea County, they cannot pop fireworks this season, correct?” Sena asked.

“Right now, the way its set up here and what we’re adopting is fireworks are ‘prohibited on lands covered wholly or in part in timber, brush, grass, grain, or other flammable vegetation,’” Velasquez said quoting from the Forestry Division order. “They are doing an exception for fireworks that are part of a public exhibit.”

Commissioner Pat Sims allowed himself to dream a little, “What happens if we get two inches of rain or it starts raining June 1 and the conditions change?”

“This emergency declaration only lasts 30 days,” Velasquez responded. “In order for us to continue this declaration, I’ll have to bring if for your approval to continue.”

With that, Sims made the motion to approve the resolution declaring an emergency and Sena seconded the motion, with all others joining them in a unanimous vote.

Commissioner Rebecca Long commented, “When you see the Mora valley and those tiny villages up there that are being burned to the ground, it’s horrifying. We all need to be aware of this.”

Jackson agreed, “It’s not a matter of if it’s going to burn; it’s a matter of when.”

The county’s emergency declaration incorporated, by reference, both the restrictions and the exceptions provided in the state’s and federal government’s orders.

The Forestry Division, and by incorporation the county prohibits smoking “except in enclosed buildings, within vehicles equipped with ashtrays, and on paved or surfaced roads, developed recreation sites, or while stopped in an area at least three feet in diameter that is barren or cleared of all flammable material.”

Regarding fireworks, “exceptions to the ban on fireworks where they are a part of a public exhibit approved by the local fire department.”

The BLM include possession of fireworks in its restrictions.

“Possessing, discharging, or using any kind of firework or other pyrotechnic or incendiary device” is part of the BLM’s list of prohibitions on BLM land, and part of the restrictions incorporated by the Lea County resolution.

Exceptions to prohibited campfires are granted if the cooking or heating devices “use kerosene, white gas, or propane as a fuel in an improved camping area that is cleared of flammable vegetation for at least 30 feet or has a water source,” the Forestry Division stated.

The BLM prohibitions are similar, but include the requirement the cooking or heating devices “meet the fire underwriter’s specifications for safety.”

Finally, the State Forester also allows exceptions for charcoal grills and wood and coal stoves within yards associated with a residence or on the premises of a business, exceptions that Velasquez said make sense for Lea County as well.

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