Peak fire season underway in New Mexico

Morgan Timms/Taos News

Taos Volunteer Fire Department was the first agency on the scene of a brush fire May 26 off State Road 518 near Talpa. Firefighters contained the fire at about an acre, but could easily have spread up the narrow canyon through the piñon and juniper.

A haze of smoke obscured Taos Mountain for the first time this week as high winds from the 25-acre Cañada fire blew from across the county line 50 miles to the west, but local firefighters have so far prevented numerous smaller fires in Taos County from reaching that magnitude.

Taos County Fire Chief Michael Cordova said county fire departments have responded to a total of 54 brush fires - also referred to as "wildland fires" - since the start of the year. About half of those have been caused by illegal burns and were therefore preventable, Cordova said.

"We just want to remind the public that we are still under a statewide burn ban," Cordova said. "We do understand that we have gotten a few rainstorms but it's still not enough rain for us to come out of restrictions and even if Taos County did come out of our restrictions we would still have to follow the state burn ban that is in effect through the New Mexico State Forestry."

Though no major fire has occurred so far this year in Taos County, the Cañada to the west is a reminder that this week marks New Mexico's entrance into peak fire season, the two-month period from June to early July when dry weather and high winds can combine to create the ideal conditions for fires to quickly grow out of control.

Despite some late spring precipitation, the United States Drought Monitor classified Taos County and much of Northern New Mexico as being in a "severe drought." Near Costilla and Amalia at the county's northern border, the organization warns of "extreme drought." Whereas a year ago, 64 percent of New Mexico showed no drought conditions, that percentage has fallen to 32 percent as of this week.

According to the U.S. Department of the Interior, fire districts throughout the country are also being advised on how to remain cautious amid the continued risk of contracting the novel coronavirus, whose disease, COVID-19, targets the respiratory system.

Cordova urged the public to strictly adhere to fire restrictions in order to mitigate the risk of a serious wildfire this season. Open burning is currently prohibited, as is smoking indoors.

"We are still unsure as to when the state will lift the burn ban," he said. "We are asking that everyone please be patient with us during this time and please follow the burn ban restrictions. If people are caught burning illegally they could face a $300 fine or up to 90 days in jail."

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