Many of you are aware that there are several large fires burning in the Southwest. The most recent fire is growing rapidly and threatening Los Alamos (both the city and the national labs). Before I continue, let me assure you that we are safe here in Belen, New Mexico. The smoke is a nuisance, and we had a small (75 acre) fire 12 miles south of us, but that was quickly extinguished with the loss of three farm houses and several outbuildings.
The reason for all of the fires is that the entire southwest is tinder dry. Here in Belen, we have had only 0.58 inches of rain since the beginning of the year, and most of that was in February. Sure, we are on a desert, but by now we should have had at least 3 inches of rain. Did I tell you how dry it is? It is so dry that the fire in Raton Pass was started by a spark from the muffler of an ATV. The fire risk is so high that our little fire that started Sunday on the west side of the river, jumped the Rio Grande and burned out of the Bosque (woods along the river) on the east side and into agricultural land.
High winds have also helped to spread some of the fires.
Because of the extreme fire hazard, open fires are not allowed in any of the national forests. Much of the recreational land has been closed off from all public access. By decree of the county commissioners, it is illegal to burn trash or weeds in Valencia County, yet the firework venders are busy setting up firework stands.
New Mexico law provides for the sale of certain fireworks in anticipation of July 4th. While the highly dangerous fireworks are not available, those fireworks that can be sold are serious fire risks. New Mexico law allows county and municipal governments to restrict fireworks when the fire danger is high, but those in authority must set the ban before a certain date so as to give vendors advance notice.
The usual problem is that the commissioners or councilmen (as the case may be) often fail to set the ban because they think some rain might fall. Thus the deadline usually passes without action.
This year we are so dry, we desperately need a firework ban. It would take several very large storm systems to reduce the fire danger before the 4th of July, and we have no reason to expect any rain. This year, if ever, all government bodies should have been setting the bans in late April. The deadline is long past, and only two local government bodies in our region have banned fireworks. Bernalillo county banned firework sales in the unincorporated parts of the county around Albuquerque. The village of Bosque Farms has their ban in effect. Everywhere else, no action was taken, but the mayors and county commissioners are pleading with people not to set off fireworks.
Well, the majority of our citizens are level headed enough to use fireworks safely. This year many of the level headed citizens will probably not light any fireworks, but even in the wet years we have fools who are careless with their fireworks and set fires. We anticipate that the firemen will be very busy from July 2nd through July 8th, patrolling for fires and responding to fires.
This all goes to point out that we can not depend on government to do everything for us. We do have to take responsibility for our actions. We do need to elect public officials who will be responsive to the electorate rather than pandering to private interests.
One reaction would be to simply place a permanent ban on fireworks. In some places that is done and done effectively. To some extent, New Mexico is the “Wild West”. Some people think they need to celebrate July 4th with fireworks, and they want to set off their own fireworks. What I think would work better would be a permanent ban of fireworks with a provision allowing local governments the option of opening sale of fireworks in those years we have enough rain. Rather than requiring action to prohibit the sale of fireworks, we need to make it so that action is required to permit the sale.
Of course, we all need to keep personal responsibility in mind. With the woods and grassland so dry, it is irresponsible to set off a firecracker in New Mexico this year.