There could be far fewer fireworks popping off in neighborhoods across Valencia County this Independence Day as three local jurisdictions are considering bans on certain types of fireworks and one tightens its open burning regulations.
At a special meeting Monday evening, the Rio Communities City Council unanimously approved a resolution prohibiting any type of outdoor burning, including — but not limited to — the use of fire pits, open flame stoves, chainsaws without spark arrestors, landscape burning, campfires and other open flame sources.
Rio Communities City Manager Martin Moore said the city has identified several high-risk fuel areas in the city along N.M. 304 and 47, on Manzano Expressway, and in the Sundial Loop and Chamesa areas.
“We also need to make sure fuel is cleared out around the water tank and on Goodman,” Moore said.
Moore said there are 23 acres east of Chamesa where the city will take dry vegetation and other potential fuel for fires to be destroyed safely in small, controlled burns. He said the area is away from homes and infrastructure.
“We’ve already had some close calls over the weekend, on Saturday. Fortunately, the fire department was on top of it,” Moore said. “The red card training from the Big Hole (Fire) paid dividends and they were able to directly attack the fire and prevent it from spreading into the bosque.”
Rio Communities Fire Chief Andrew Tabet said the public works department will temporarily place millings on the piles of dried vegetation to prevent them from blowing away and simply accumulating elsewhere.
“We don’t want to create a big pile so we will do small piles to reduce the problem,” Tabet said.
Moore said the areas where the city will be reducing fuel loads are mostly on the perimeter of the city, places where the city has right of way and owns property. He also said in the area north of Hillendale, between the street and the expressway, they plan to create a 3-foot fire break through the vegetation.
“There are also (homes with) wooden fences on the south side of the expressway, where we will put a fire break,” the manager said.
City employees are also speaking with private property owners about clearing their properties of heavy fuel loads.
“Everyone is a bit on edge. We’re trying to stay calm and handle this in an orderly manner,” Moore said, noting the city would be clearing fuel along both state highways, with or without the help of the New Mexico Department of Transportation. “If they’re tied up, that’s fine. If they can assist, that’s great.
“I think this will send a strong message that we are asking (residents) to be careful but we as a city will be careful as well.”
Councilor Arthur Apodaca asked why the prohibition of fireworks had been removed from the original resolution, leaving just the open burn ban.
Moore said according to state statute, the city can ban certain fireworks but it must be done by a separate proclamation, 20 days before the Fourth of July holiday. The manager said the plan was to bring the proclamation to the council at its May 23 meeting or by June 6 at the latest.
“We will make sure it’s ready in plenty of time for the Fourth of July,” he said.
State statute allows municipalities and counties to ban the sale and use of certain types of fireworks for the Fourth of July holiday. The ban must be done no less than 20 days before the holiday and is only in effect for 30 days.
The town of Peralta and Valencia County are also considering firework bans at future meetings.
In an area affected by extreme or severe drought conditions, a governing body may hold a hearing to determine if fireworks restrictions should be imposed, based on current drought indices published by the National Weather Service and any other relevant information provided by the U.S. Forest Service.
If extreme or severe drought conditions are declared, the governing body shall issue a proclamation which bans the sale and use of missile-type rockets, helicopters, aerial spinners, stick-type rockets and ground audible devices within the affected drought area.
The proclamations also give governing bodies the power to limit the use of fireworks not specified in the ban to paved or barren areas or places that have a readily accessible source of water, ban the use of all fireworks within wildlands in its jurisdiction after consultation with the state forester, and ban or restrict the sale or use of display fireworks.
Peralta Town Clerk Kori Taylor said the proposed proclamation limits fireworks to those which are considered “safe and sane,” such as smokeballs, snake-type fireworks and fountains.
“We love where we live and we love our Rio Grande River. This drought, we’ve never seen it like this. We are very proactive with fireworks but we have to be very cautious,” Taylor said.
The Peralta Town Council is considering the proclamation at its regular meeting at 6 p.m., Tuesday, May 24.
In June 2014, Valencia County commissioners approved a 30-day emergency ordinance banning the sale and use of the types of fireworks allowed under state statute, but those restrictions were only in effect for 30 days.
Valencia County attorney Dave Pato said the commission wanted to render its ban on fireworks this year “free from challenge. We will have a public hearing where we can address and identify the need for a ban and implement it within statute.”
Calling the limitation on fireworks a “good idea,” Valencia County Fire Chief Matt Propp said the county wasn’t seeing the sale and use of fireworks yet.
“We are going to present our request on June 13, in accordance with state statute,” Propp said. “The conditions are not good for (fireworks) right now. We’re asking people to go to professional displays; don’t do this to us.”
If the county commissioners do issue a proclamation banning certain types of fireworks, it will only be in effect for unincorporated areas, the chief said.
“We have been in talks with other (municipal) chiefs and they are on board,” he said.
The county commission will hold a special meeting at 5 p.m., Monday, June 13, to consider a proclamation banning the sale and use of certain fireworks in the unincorporated areas of the county.
The county-wide ban on open burning — which includes municipalities — was renewed for another 30 days on Wednesday, May 18.
“We will revisit the open burn ban every 30 days,” Propp said. “We don’t want to say it’s an indefinite ban because that makes people kind of nervous, especially farmers. We will reevaluate every month and see if conditions have changed.”
Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.