County, Farmington fire departments see recent increase in number of brush, structure fires

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FARMINGTON — Representatives of various San Juan County fire departments are urging residents to take safety precautions with fireworks as the Fourth of July holiday approaches.

The Farmington and San Juan County fire departments have experienced a recent uptick in the number of brush/grass and structure fires they respond to, according to the departments' fire chiefs.

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Firefighters for the Farmington Fire Department have responded to four structure fires and 11 brush/grass fires this month, Deputy Fire Chief David Burke said. But that still compares favorably to the 10 structure fires and 26 brush/grass fires they faced in June 2016, according to the city of Farmington's website. Burke believes the increased frequency in fire calls will continue into the summer.

"It's so dry, it's so explosive," Burke said about the nature of the recent fires. "It's getting into structures before we get on scene."

San Juan County Fire Chief Craig Daughtery said his department has been responding to about two to three brush fire calls and one structure fire call each day. 

"We've had some serious fires right in the middle of residential areas," Daughtery said. 

Daughtery, Burke and Farmington Fire Chief Terry Page said the moist and mild winter and spring led to a huge grass crop that is drying out quickly with the high temperatures in the region.

Portions of San Juan County are listed as experiencing a high fire danger on the National Fire Danger Rating System, according to the Southwest Coordinator Center website.

Daughtery said he is extremely concerned about the amount of sheet grass and cotton falling off cottonwood trees that provide a lot of fuel for potential brush fires.

He added one recent brush fire was started by someone mowing their lawn and striking a rock with the mower.

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The fire chiefs advised people against burning piles of weeds, especially since their departments, along with the Bloomfield Fire Department, are not issuing burn permits.

Daughtery encourages people to be cautious while using open-flame torches and grinders to ensure sparks don't catch nearby brush on fire.

Residents are urged to keep fire-suppression equipment nearby and soak the surrounding area before using such equipment.

Burke asked residents remove combustible material from a work site if they are using a torch or grinder.

With fireworks going on sale at stands across the county this past week, the fire chiefs urged residents to follow city ordinances and avoid being in possession of illegal fireworks.

Ordinances in Aztec, Bloomfield and Farmington prohibit "aerial devices," including roman candles, mortar shells and missile-style rockets. They also prohibit "ground audible" devices, including chasers and firecrackers.

More: Hot, dry weather sparks concerns about fireworks

In Farmington, those in possession of illegal fireworks could be cited with a petty misdemeanor charge and receive up to 90 days in jail and up to $500 in fines or both. 

Page said if someone is found to be in possession of illegal fireworks, all the fireworks could be seized as evidence, which could upset those who spend hundreds of dollars on fireworks.

Residents are encouraged to use the parking lot at McGee Park from Friday through July 6 to safely set off fireworks. Those who use the parking lot to launch fireworks are encouraged to clean up their trash and dispose of spent fireworks in trash barrels.

Joshua Kellogg covers crime, courts and social issues for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627.

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