Fire meetings continue as agencies ready for dry spring

Another fire awareness meeting was held by Bernalillo County last weekend at Vista Grande Community Center as agencies in the East Mountains continue their efforts to prepare for a very dry spring and dangerous conditions.

The meeting was organized and hosted by Cuidad Soil and Water Conservation District in cooperation with the county; the meeting included information for Sandoval County and other residents of the East Mountains.

Kerry Jones from the National Weather Service said that conditions in the East Mountains this year are still very dry and did a comparison presentation of the last year the area was this dry—which was 2011.

Jones had photos of Sandia Crest during the same month in 2011, when there was snow on the ground; this year its bone dry up there.

Jones said the outlook for the area is that spring will bring lots of wind, which will keep the plants and trees very dry. The summer could bring in some monsoon rains as the the La Niña system is ending this year. The small spits of snow and rain the area has received over the past month is postponing but not alleviating the fire danger.

Lawrence Crane from New Mexico State Forestry said during his presentation that the recommended defensible space around a person’s house is 30 feet. He had several images of properties around the United States that were not properly trimmed and talked about losses that resulted.

Crane also said that State Forestry is working with Cuidad SWCD, and non-federal land grants including the upcoming project in Carlito Springs.

Joe Gober, District Chief for Sandoval Fire Department District 16 (La Madera Volunteer Fire Station), said that the county is networking with local agencies, including Bernalillo County Fire and Rescue and the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s department as well as Red Cross, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, and a local volunteer organization, CERT, which stands for Community Emergency Response Team.

Gober also said they have an cell phone alert system for residents of Sandoval County called CodeRed. Sign-up for the system can be found at sandovalcountynm.gov under the fire tab. Gober also recommended that residents check out the National Fire Protection Association’s website, firewise.org, for more information about fire preparedness and public outreach programs. Only a small portion of Sandoval County is in the East Mountain area but it is located off of La Madera Road, very close to East Mountain High School and a heavily populated residential area.

Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) also attended the meeting. Although they did not have a presentation, the group has a lot to offer the area during emergencies like evacuations due to fire. According to their website, the volunteer-based group also manages utilities and puts out small fires, does basic first aid, and helps with searches, and collect disaster intelligence to support first responders’ efforts.

Last year during the Dog Head Fire, CERT ran the animal shelter in Estancia.

CERT serves the entire East Mountain area which includes four counties: Torrance, Bernalillo, Sandoval and Santa Fe. Vicki Voyles is the local contact, and can be reached at 505-205-6315 or eastmntcert@gmail.com.

To get involved, CERT asks that people participate in their training program. However, in the cases of emergencies, they do allow walk-in volunteers.

Cuidad Soil and Water Conservation District has implemented the East Mountain Forest Health Program (EMFHP) as a way to help landowners avoid severe property damage in the face of fire and to help improve forest health.

Cuidad attended both recent fire meetings held in Bernalillo County. According to Ciudad’s website, EMFHP is a cost-share program that provides technical assistance and on-the-ground work in three target areas of the East Mountains. EMFHP supplies 50 percent of the funding for any given project with the landowners covering the other half of the bill. To get properties assessed and to sign up, visit cuidadswcd.org and select the link “East Mountain Wildfire Prevention.”