Due to ongoing drought and severe fire danger, local fire departments have collectively agreed to ban open burning in all jurisdictions in Valencia County.

Effective Friday, June 18, Valencia County, village of Los Lunas, city of Belen, town of Peralta, village of Bosque Farms and the city of Rio Communities implemented a ban on open burning, which restricts any and all outdoor fires such as weed burning, cooking fires and bonfires. Grills and smokers are allowed during the open burn ban.

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The ban will remain in effect for 30 days or until the area receives a sufficient amount of precipitation to reduce the fire danger. The departments will reevaluate the need for the restrictions at that time.

“We must do what we can to protect our bosque from wildfire, protect our natural resources and we must protect the safety of our communities’ lives and property while enhancing firefighter safety,” wrote Valencia County Fire Department Interim Fire Chief Casey Davis in a written statement.

Local fire departments use several criteria to determine when to implement burn restrictions, including current and predicted weather, fuel moisture, fire-activity levels and available fire fighting resources.

Residents are urged to use extreme caution when using any open flame, such as welding or grinding, and to have at least a 4-foot in diameter area cleared of all flammable material with a water source or extinguisher available.

Smokers are reminded to not drop or toss lit cigarettes on the ground and ensure they fully extinguished. Residents should also avoid parking or leaving a running vehicle in dry brush or cotton, as that can create a fire that will spread.

With the Fourth of July holiday coming up, fire personnel also encourage all residents to use only “safe and sane” fireworks. With the exception of the town of Peralta, the sale and use of stick-type rockets, helicopters and aerial spinners, missile-type rockets, ground audible devices, firecrackers and display fireworks are prohibited.

At the Wednesday, June 16, Valencia County Commission meeting held prior to the announcement of the open burn ban, Davis told commissioners even though Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham issued an executive order urging cities and counties to consider banning the retail sale of fireworks, local governments don’t have that authority.

“The governor is asking for a ban, but I believe a ban can only be done by the state,” Davis said.

County attorney Adren Nance said state law prohibits local governments from restricting the sale of what are called “safe and sane” fireworks.

“That is what we allow. Anything other than that is already not allowed. Valencia County ordinance is doing what it can at this point,” Nance said. “Even with a resolution (from the county commission) it wouldn’t have taken (the restrictions) further than they already are at ‘safe and sane.’”

The county’s fireworks ordinance, along with those for Belen, Los Lunas, Bosque Farms and Rio Communities, limit fireworks sales and use in those areas to the “safe and sane” fireworks; Peralta allows the sale and use of most fireworks types allowed for retail sale and personal use under state statute.

For the most part, “safe and sane” fireworks go no higher than 10 feet into the air or in diameter on the ground.

“Peralta still allows everything the state allows, and people still have access to fireworks from Moriarty and Socorro County,” Davis said. “We are hoping people will be safe.”

Commissioner Joseph Bizzell asked if county code enforcement officers could watch for illegal fireworks usage to help mitigate problems. Davis said code enforcement officers can enforce the same ordinances as the fire department, but offered a word of caution.

“Historically, one reason fire administration has opted out of doing patrols per se is because we’ve had issues with individuals being belligerent, alcohol has been involved, so it becomes a safety issue for personnel, even with back up from law enforcement, which can be few and far between,” he said.

Davis said the department would always respond to an active fire, regardless of the cause, and help with fireworks violations where livestock was involved to the extent possible.

At the Bosque Farms council meeting, Thursday, June 17, Mayor Russ Walkup said village Fire Chief Spencer Wood has suspended all burn permits in the village for the time being.

“We are trying to get some roll-off containers so people can clear their property and dispose of yard waste until burn permits can be issued again,” Walkup said.

The containers will be at the maintenance yard at the village water treatment, but residents need to call the village offices at 869-2357 to arrange for a drop off time. The roll offs are for yard waste only.

According to a recent press release from the governor’s office, 90 percent of New Mexico is experiencing at least severe drought conditions, with significant portions of the state in extreme or exceptional drought, according to the United States Drought Monitor.

Currently, all five National Forests in New Mexico are either in Stage 2 or Stage 1 fire restrictions, in addition to other potential restrictions in place across the state at the local level.

All known restrictions are posted on the New Mexico Fire Information website, nmfireinfo.com. The state forestry division recommends New Mexico residents and visitors check with local fire departments, municipalities or governing agencies to see if there are fire restrictions in place at any time.

The executive order does not affect municipal and/or county fireworks displays for the Fourth of July.

Editor’s note: This article was updated to reflect outdoor cooking in contained units such as grills and smokers is allowed during the ban on open burning.

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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.