State forester issues ban on open burns, puts other fire restrictions in place

Exemptions are allowed if certain conditions are met

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Just a day after San Juan County officials moved to restrict open burns to the morning hours because of high fire danger, State Forester Laura McCarthy announced Friday that she was banning open burns across the state and putting other fire restrictions in place.

The ban on open burning applies to all nonmunicipal, nonfederal and all nontribal land in the state. It took effect immediately.

The order also bans smoking, campfires and fireworks except under certain conditions. Smoking is allowed in enclosed buildings, in vehicles equipped with ashtrays, on paved or surfaced roads, in developed recreation sites or in an area at least 3 feet in diameter that is barren or that has been cleared of all flammable material.

Charcoal grills and wood or gas stoves that are located close to a residence or on the premises of a business are allowed. Cooking or heating devices using kerosene, white gas or propane as a fuel in an improved camping area that has been cleared of flammable vegetation for at least 30 feet or that has a water source are exempt from the restrictions. The order applies to New Mexico State Parks land, State Game Commission lands managed by the Department of Game and Fish, and state trust lands managed by the State Land Office.

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The order also grants an exemption to the prohibition on open burning when each of the following conditions is met:

• The cropland is irrigated.

• Burning is done with adequate planning.

• Adequate personnel are present to monitor and control the burn to keep it from becoming an uncontrolled fire.

• The person responsible for the burn notifies the local fire department at the beginning of each day before the burn begins and follows all burning guidelines.

Sustained winds of at least 35 mph were blowing across much of the state on Friday with gusts often reaching more than 50 mph, leading to fears that any uncontrolled blaze quickly could grow out of control in a state that saw below-average winter precipitation once again this year. The National Weather Service in Albuquerque issued several wind and dust storm advisories throughout the day, and warned that some gusts could reach 60 to 75 mph in northern and central New Mexico.

Exceptional drought, which is the worst designation under the U.S. Drought Monitor's five-tier system for characterizing drought, has returned to three parts of the state — sections of Sierra and Socorro counties in southwest New Mexico; portions of Chaves, Lincoln and Eddy counties in southeast New Mexico; and parts of Union, Colfax and Mora counties in northeast New Mexico.

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More than 63% of the state is in extreme drought or worse, which is the second-worst classification, and more than 93% of New Mexico is in severe drought or worse, the third-worst classification.

More than 68% of San Juan County is in extreme drought. Nearly 96% of the county is in severe drought or worse and all of the county is in moderate drought or worse. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, the county was 0.16 inches of precipitation below normal last month, which made it the 58th driest March on record. Year-to-date precipitation for the county is 0.7 inches below normal, making it the 33rd driest year to date over the past 128 years.

Another figure is perhaps even more concerning. The snowpack in the mountains of southwest Colorado has been plummeting since it reached its peak in early April, sitting at just 61% of the median on April 22, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture Data.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or Support local journalism with a digital subscription: