The Village of Bosque Farms is the only municipality in Valencia County to have passed a resolution banning the use of all types of fireworks within their jurisdiction.
Governor Gary Johnson issued an executive order Wednesday asking all municipalities to consider banning the use of all fireworks this Fourth of July, even those permitted by statute, due to extreme drought conditions.
On the recommendation of legal council, the City of Belen, the Village of Los Lunas and the Valencia County Commission declined to follow the executive order of the governor. They all say they don’t have the authority to issue a ban on using fireworks.
The fireworks ban, which was unanimously passed by the Bosque Farms Village Council Wednesday is effective immediately, with a fine of $300 and/or 90 days in jail for anyone caught setting off any type of fireworks. The ban will continue as long as the drought conditions exist.
“There will be no fireworks within the Village of Bosque Farms,” said Mayor Roger Baldwin. “It’s not illegal to sell them. It’s illegal to use them.”
With smoke still hanging over the county from the Arizona and Colorado fires, Baldwin and the village council decided to ban all fireworks, due to the high risk of fire.
“For the safety of Bosque Farms and for Valencia County, we are banning fireworks,” Baldwin said. “It is so dry here. This is one way we can prevent a catastrophe. I rode my horse through the bosque a week ago and everything he stepped on crackled.
“What we’re trying to prevent outweighs using a few fireworks,” Baldwin said.
“The situation is probably as bad as it’s ever been,” said Bosque Farms Fire Chief Greg Jones. “The bosque is just ready to explode. With the cottonwoods in bloom, it’s just ready to ignite. I’m in favor of the fireworks ban.”
Bosque Farms Police Chief Louis Burkhard said additional personnel will be working to enforce the fireworks ban.
Baldwin is so concerned with the possibility of a fire in the village that he met with Jones and the police department to form a possible evacuation plan in the event the village is threatened by a fire.
“It’s a pro-active approach that we are in a drought condition, and we want to have something in place in the event that a fire happened in the bosque,” said Burkhard when asked about the village evacuation plan.
Baldwin was pleased that the village council united quickly and decisively to unanimously approve the fireworks ban resolution.
The Valencia County Commission extended its proclamation Tuesday, extending fireworks restrictions for another 30 days. County Manager James Fernandez said the county is not issuing a full ban on fireworks right now.
“We referred the item to the county attorney,” Fernandez said. “The county would have to implement a full ban with 20 days prior notice. You must give full notice to fireworks-stand vendors. It’s a potential liability for the county to ban fireworks now. This particular order doesn’t allow for that. The proclamation will remain as it was before.
“We’re always worried about fires in these dry conditions. Citizens must adhere to the restrictions,” Fernandez said.
“We’re all willing to do it,” Belen Mayor Ronnie Torres said of his city council and officials. “But, by law, we still can’t legally ban all fireworks. There is a specific law, statute 60.2c.3.c, which limits muncipalities from banning all fireworks.
“I think it’s stupid that he (Johnson) would lead the public to believe we could do something which we legally can’t do,” Torres said.
After the governor announced the executive order, Torres and City Manager Sally Garley, Fire Chief Wayne Gallegos and Police Chief Paul Skotchdople called the New Mexico Municipal League and were advised of the potential lawsuits which could arise from banning all use of fireworks.
“We are doing the best we can within the law,” Gallegos said. “The city has done a good job on the ordinance that was passed in May.”
Gallegos said that when the state enacted the fireworks law, it specifically took the authority from the municipality to ban fireworks.
“I don’t think that you can buy something that is not authorized in Belen elsewhere and use it in Belen,” the fire chief said specifically of roman-candle fireworks. “Light them where you buy them.”
Skotchdople warns that he will have extra officers on duty at night, specifically looking for people violating the Belen fireworks ordinance.
“We’re not kidding about zero tolerance,” he said. “If you get caught with the fireworks, they will be confiscated, and you will be issued a citation or faced with an arrest — and then you can take your chances in court.”
Los Lunas Village Adminis-trator Phillip Jaramillo agrees with Belen and the county that there is a potential legal problem with the governor’s order.
“The council and our legal staff agree. It doesn’t give us the authority to ban fireworks,” Jaramillo said. “The governor just can’t change the law. It’s a situation of abiding by the law of statutes or opening yourself to possible damages.
“The fireworks vendors are committed to their inventory. We can’t just change the rules overnight. We have a legal responsibility to follow.”
Jaramillo says citizens of Valencia County need to be careful not to overreact about fire safety. “Everybody is concerned,” he said. “The message we want to present is we followed all the statues and authority given to us by the legislature. We don’t have the authority to act beyond that.”
This Independence Day, Jaramillo says, adults need to supervise their kids and be involved in the process of using fireworks.
“Take every precaution in the world. Act responsible. If everyone does, we will survive this well. We’re asking our vendors to send that message,” he said.
Concerns have been raised in both Valencia and Bernalillo counties about fireworks being purchased in Los Lunas that are illegal in other parts of the state. Customers are traveling from surrounding communities and buying fireworks, such as roman candles, that are only allowed in Los Lunas.
“It sounds good that we should all have the same ordinance,” Jaramillo said. “But we all operate in a different way. Litter, cigarettes, burning weeds — all of those things are dangerous. As with anything else, it’s the responsibility of the person using these devices.”
Jaramillo said the Los Lunas fire department will be out every day until the Fourth of July, looking at stands and anywhere fireworks are lit. Police officers are also on alert.
“We’ll be fine,” the village administrator said. “Lets not panic. We still have to act like Americans. We have a right to set off fireworks. We can’t take the holiday and kill some of the things we’ve worked for, or we loose out on our own constitutional rights.”
Valencia County Fire Marshal John Cherry is disappointed that the other local municipalities aren’t joining Bosque Farms in banning the use of all fireworks.
“It stinks,” Cherry said. “We need to work on legislation next year so local governments have the full authority to protect themselves in case of emergencies.”
Fireworks restrictions remain in place throughout the county — which means absolutely no aerials in Belen or in the county. Los Lunas has permitted the use and sale of some aerial devices.
“We will confiscate and fine for use of illegal fireworks in the county,” Cherry said. “Don’t buy them. If you do, go to the City of Belen or county stands, that way you know you’re legal.”
Cherry advises fireworks users to take proper precautions. Have water on hand, light fireworks in a clear area, such as concrete driveways or pavement.
The Valencia County Sheriff’s Department and officers from the Los Lunas, Bosque Farms and Belen police departments, along with county fire marshall’s office, will all be patrolling the area now until the Fourth of July.