“We only had one abandoned camp fire over the weekend; it was in the Manzano Mountains; Engine 641 responded and put it out,” said Ernest Taylor from Mountainair Ranger District.
He said prescribed “fire operations in the Thunderbird area on the Manzanos” went smoothly. Fire crews from all ranger districts, plus crews from Kirtland AFB assisted, he said. “We burned 1 unit on Friday and two units on Saturday for a total of about 250 acres,” said Taylor.
He said fire danger is “High” and there are discussions of going into Stage 1 fire restrictions by Memorial Day. The Sandia Ranger District remains in “Moderate” fire conditions.
On May 18, Bernalillo County hosted a Wildfire Preparedness meeting at the McGrane Station in Tijeras.
A panel of speakers included County Commissioner Charlene Pyskoty, the Bernalillo County Fire Chief, Bernalillo County Sheriff’s office, Bernalillo County Emergency Management office, East Mountain Inter-Agency Fire Protection Agency (EMIFPA), and the Forest Service, who came together to inform the community about resources available to them and to answer any questions or concerns about fire.
Pyskoty talked about the importance of being prepared for wildfire season and the importance of wildfire prevention.
Bernalillo County Fire Chief Greg Perez spoke about the fast response time of the fire department, resources provided by the county for wildland fires, mutual aid agreements with the various agencies, “severity staffing,” and a possible burn ban for the East Mountains.
BSCO Chief Campos spoke about the sheriff department’s role during a fire emergency, evacuation orders, home security, the role of the emergency response team and air support.
EMIFPA discussed its role in the East Mountain community, as educational resource.
Richard Clark from Bernalillo County Emergency management talked about evacuations and sheltering for people and animals in the event of an evacuation, as with the Dog Head Fire in 2016, when the county set up a shelter for people and animals at Los Vecinos Community Center in Tijeras.
The Forest Service spoke about wildfire preparedness and prevention.
Fire preparedness in the East Mountains and Estancia Valley includes creating a defensible space around homes. This means creating a buffer zone or fire break around the home that is free of grass, shrubs, trees, and other flammable materials.
Starving an approaching wildfire of fuel helps decrease a fire’s intensity and improves the probability of a home surviving the burn.
Pyskoty mentioned that there are free green waste disposal days at the transfer stations through May 30. Loads must be covered.
Perez said the area is in “some of the driest conditions on record in the last 12 to 24 months.”
He said the Bernalillo Fire Department prepares for fire season year-round, and works closely with other departments like State Forestry, the Forest Service and the Sheriff’s department to make “a coordinated plan for fire season.”
“We are ready. We have crews on standby 24/7,” Perez said.
The community voiced concern about where fire departments get water when they are fighting fires. Perez said water is brought in by the fire departments mostly by trucks, which currently have a capacity of 1,000 gallons. He said they are trying to get four more trucks for the county that can carry 3,000 gallons each to fully “outfit” the East Mountain fire stations.
“We try to use as little water as possible,” he said. He said they have water strategically placed in areas where water is scarce.
The community also voiced concerns about evacuation in the event of a fire, as there are only two ways to access the East Mountain area, Interstate 40 or Route 66.
Perez said evacuation plans cannot be predetermined because it would depend on where a fire is. “Most of the interest was about the evacuations and how people would get to their property if they were in Albuquerque during a fire in the East Mountains,” said Brad Tausan of the Forest Service.
EMIFPA sponsors education, outreach and fire training opportunities throughout the East Mountains including community workshops about creating defensible space, fire preparedness, fire prevention and evacuation information to a cross section of the community; field days, where members of the firefighting community, local residents, and members of cooperating agencies come together for hands-on fire training and education; sponsoring interagency meetings, providing outreach for local residents and they maintain an email notification list where interested parties can be notified of upcoming fire related events, fire information regarding prescribed burns and wildfires in the area, news releases, general information related to fire and emergency events, and other pertinent information.