Fire restrictions in place across Ariz., NM, Nation

WINDOW ROCK

With continued winds and no rain in the forecast, conditions for a fire to ignite are ripe.

The weather has prompted the states of Arizona and New Mexico and Navajo tribal officials to place fire restrictions in their areas.

On Friday, Apache and Navajo Counties upgraded their restrictions from Stage 2 to Stage 3, which now includes being cited and possibly arrested for building a campfire. Officials said any kind of burning on state land – even on private property – is prohibited until further notice.

The Navajo Nation has not upgraded since going into a Stage 1 fire restriction on May 1. Stage 1 prohibits campfires in undeveloped areas and outdoor smoking, while Stage 2 prohibits not only fires but usage of charcoal, wood or coal stoves, and also chainsaws. Stage 3 allows authorities to close high fire-risk areas to the public.

In New Mexico, the Bureau of Land Management issued a fire prevention order for the counties of McKinley, Cibola, Bernalillo, Sandoval, Socorro, Torrance, and Valencia.

The May 11 BLM press release said the campfires are legal, so long as they are properly contained. Driving off roads was also permitted, but drivers have to park in an area “devoid of vegetation.”

Alvin Whitehair with the U.S. Forest Service, Mount Taylor Ranger District wrote an email that he was suspending “all firewood permits” on Monday. Whitehair added that a fire in Grants burned over 75 acres of land.

“Due to the extreme fire danger, we are currently at the 96th percentile and rising with no precipitation in the forecast,” he stated.

The 96th percentile is a technical term called an energy release component (ERC), which helps officials determine how quickly a fire can start. The maximum danger is 100 percent. According to the Southwest Coordination Center National Fire Danger Rating System, the reservation is in the 90th percentile range.

The National Weather Service issued a Red Flag Warning affecting the tribe today. Low humidity and winds gusting up to 40 mph means the potential for fire to spread rapidly is high.

The Tinder Fire, which began on April 27 south of Winslow, has burned 33 homes and more than 16,000 acres, and is 79 percent contained. Officials have said an illegal campfire started the fire. The fire prompted a mandatory evacuation.

Officials enlisted the help of the Twin Arrows Casino and Resort, which was set up to shelter up to 100 people.

The Rattlesnake Fire burned 26,000 acres and the Oliver Fire burned only 12 acres near the Hon-Dah Casino and Resort. Both of those fires have been contained.

The Torreon Fire Department and the Mountainair Ranger District fire crew west of Torreon, New Mexico extinguished a one-acre fire.

“We have seen a number of fires across the Navajo Nation and in surrounding areas,” Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye stated in the May 1 press release.

“The (Stage 1) fire restrictions are a necessary precaution to protect the land and our communities,” the Navajo Nation Vice President Jonathan Nez added.


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