A few months shy of a year after the Dog Head Fire ripped through the East Mountains, nearly destroying the tiny village of Chilili, the question on the minds of many residents is what this year will be like.
Following a very mild and dry winter, concerns about the upcoming fire season have officials and volunteers planning ahead and working to educate the public about fire danger and what to do about it.
To that end, the East Mountain Interagency Fire Protection Association, or EMIFPA, held a meeting last week at the Tijeras library to brief attendees on what to expect and resources for staying informed.
Presented by Tom Stuart, the talk was sparsely attended.
Stuart posed some questions to the group, like, “Is this a good safe time to do some preventative actions, or is this going to be part of the problem?” He was referring to sparks that can be thrown by chainsaw blades.
“Can you drive out your road blind at 2 a.m.?” he asked, recommending planning a main route, and an alternate route, and knowing all of the means ingress and egress to a property.
“This is not a spring to be complacent about wildfire,” Stuart said.
A fire such as the Dog Head can lead to utilities and power lines being out, a loss of cell phone service, roads destroyed, contaminated or no water, flooding and other complications, he said.
EMIFPA and groups like it constantly push being prepared, and Stuart was no different.
He suggested visiting nearby fire stations, and knowing the location of water, hydrants, and septic tanks. Other suggestions are preparation of a “go bag,” with copies of important documents, extra medications, flashlights, food, water, and other necessities in case of evacuation.
Contact lists—including out of state contacts because during an emergency the local capacity can be overwhelmed—lists of medication and an evacuation plan are also recommended.
For those who already have a go bag, it’s important to keep the information and supplies updated and fresh, Stuart said. A second go bag should be prepared for animals and pets.
“What’s the road clearance on your vehicle?” Stuart asked. “You practiced evacuation in the SUV but when the fire comes you find you gotta take the Prius.”
Stuart said that compared to a typical year, the next few months are expected to be somewhat drier, warmer, and with stronger winds, which could include stronger storms and lightning.
Three areas in the nation are at highest risk for “significant wildland fire potential.” In addition to Alaska and a large part of the eastern seaboard, a glaring red stripe paints central New Mexico, with the East Mountains squarely in the middle of it. That’s according to the National Interagency Fire Center, as of March 1, 2017.
Some advice on being prepared has changed, Stuart said. Don’t hang out a white sheet when evacuating, and don’t rely solely on alert or notification services for information, he said.
The EMIFPA website will have more “current situational awareness information than previously,” Stuart said, with updates of fires that may occur in upcoming months.
Free green waste disposal will be ongoing through April 17 at the East Mountain Transfer Station in Tijeras. Clearing defensible space is still a priority, Stuart said. Covered loads of green waste may be taken to the transfer station for free.