With the current dry conditions and the high winds blowing through the state and Valencia County, fire dangers are at an all-time high.
Valencia County Fire Marshal John Cherry said he hopes people will take extra precautions when it comes to controlled burns. This week, the fire marshal’s office suspended issuing burn permits to people who want to burn weeds and fields.
“My major concern right now is the whole state and Valencia County are going into extreme dry conditions,” Cherry said. “If the wind is over 10 miles an hour, we’re not going to allow controlled burns.”
An example of the dangers of dry conditions occurred Wednesday afternoon when a controlled burn got out of hand and destroyed a shed behind a house on the 1200 block of Molina Road in Belen. The fire was put out by the Belen and Los Chavez fire departments before it reached the house.
Belen Fire Chief Wayne Gallegos said the storage shed was totally engulfed when they arrived on scene. “When we got here, the fire was already coming toward the house,” Gallegos said. “We sprayed the house and cooled off the fields because we were afraid it could spread to the surrounding houses.”
Gallegos said the fire spread due to the dry conditions of the area and from a breeze which swept through. The storage shed, which was filled with miscellaneous tools, generators and a tractor, was a total loss, Gallegos said.
Cherry said people need to take certain precautions when they do decide to burn. The fire marshal’s office recommends that all residents have a 30-foot clear area between the fire and all structures.
“Basically, they need to put their weeds in piles to better control the fire,” he said. “If that’s an impossibility, people are welcomed to contact my office and we are willing to have a fire truck stand by to help if the fire gets out of control.”
The fire marshal said there is no cost for the service, but, due to limited numbers of volunteers at the fire stations, they can only offer the help on weekends.
Another piece of advice comes from Deputy Fire Marshal Charles Eaton on what to do to protect structures if they are threatened by fire.
“Have on hand safe materials, like a garden hose, when you’re doing a burn,” Eaton said. “Take out a portable water tank, maybe with a pump.”
Nine times out of 10, Eaton says, people will participate in controlled burns. “We do get a lot of fires that are out of control, and we need to get to the scene,” he said. “Usually though, they really don’t need us there.”
Cherry said those who are burning agricultural fields should also take precautions as they get their pastures ready to plant.
“Historically, irrigation ditches are filled at this time, and they help in normal areas, but we still recommend that some type of fire break is put around the fields to help contain them,” Cherry said.