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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

News Center

Record-setting Fire Danger a Threat to Forest Homeowners

RUIDOSO -- Blazing red signs on the roads near the Lincoln National Forest tell the story in New Mexico this summer: Fire danger extreme.

In Ruidoso, radio stations are broadcasting frequent reminders about special fire prevention ordinances. Near Alto, Glen and Jo Brown's neighbors are staying away from their mountain cabin on purpose. "They're afraid we'll have a fire and they won't be able to get out in time," Jo explained.

Those living in forested areas have reason to worry, said Bob Cain, a Santa Fe-based forest entomologist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service.

"The potential for forest fires in New Mexico is the highest on record," he said. "In late May, the index used to figure fire danger reached an all-time high of 104."

Before this season, 83 was the record score for the energy release component index, Cain said. The fire danger score is based on wind speed, temperature, relative humidity and moisture content in heavy woods.

Because of the dangers of fighting house fires in forested areas, firefighters carefully consider whether a home can be defended against fire, Cain said.

He offered the following fire prevention suggestions for forest homeowers:

* Dispose of ashes properly. Under current restrictions, no open burning is allowed, even in wood stoves or fireplaces.
* Enclose openings around porches, foundations or overhanging decks.
* Maintain a circle of safety by removing vegetation at least 30 feet from the house. Make the clearing larger if the home is on a slope. Also, keep your immediate area free of debris.
* Thin and prune the forest around your home. Eliminate brush and small trees that could carry a fire from the ground to the tops of trees. Keep grass and weeds mowed.
* Keep roofs and gutters free of debris, like dry pine needles, that could fuel a fire. Remove any tree limbs hanging over structures.
* Stack firewood away from the house.
* Take trash to the dump instead of burning it.
* Replace or treat wood shake shingle roofs with a fire retardant. Install spark arresters on chimneys.
* Provide adequate access for emergency vehicles.
* Have an outdoor water supply such as a pond or small pool. During a fire, community water supplies often lose pressure or get cut off.
* Keep fire extinguishers charged and available, along with a hose near outdoor hydrants.

For information on fire restrictions and forest closures, call the U.S. Forest Service's toll free number: 888-SWFIRES (793-4737).