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County Urged to Tighten Fire Rules

Silver City Sun-News

SILVER CITY, N.M. — Even as the Miller Fire topped 83,000 scorched acres in the Gila Wilderness, the Grant County Commission received an update Tuesday from the U.S. Forest regarding the situation and was urged to strengthen the current fire ban ordinance.

The Miller Fire, which is burning about 25 miles north of Silver City, is at about 48 percent containment with almost 500 personnel fighting the blaze, including 12 crews, four engines, three water tenders and 10 helicopters.

Clay Templin, the incident commander of the fire, gave a historic overview of the Miller Fire, which broke out April 28. Firefighters are trying to establish and maintain fire lines on the southwest and northeast boundaries of the fire but rugged terrain, windy conditions and high relative humidity continue to hamper efforts, Templin said.

“It’s not an exact science, fire suppression,” Templin said. “But we do feel like we’re in a pretty good position right now.”

During the course of the blaze, an evacuation order was imposed on the community Gila Hot Springs but it was eventually lifted. No structures have been lost in the fire but four surplus Forest Service trailers were destroyed.

At Tuesday’s regular meeting, county resident Jim Lee told commissioners that the fire ban ordinance should be strengthened to include spark arrestors on any engine-powered equipment, such as chain saws and lawn mowers. This would negate the requirement of getting the use of a chain saw approved through the County Manager’s Office, as the current ordinance requires.

“People are using them anyway,” said Lee, who lives out in the county between Hanover and the Mimbres.

Gary Benavidez, Grant County Fire Management officer, said Tuesday that the emergency ordinance, which was passed in March, should be updated.

Benavidez said since the Quail Ridge Fire in March public interest has grown as far as what homeowners’ associations and neighborhood groups can do to protect themselves from wildfires. He said he welcomes public input and suggestions, such as the one that Lee offered, which Benavidez said was a “great idea.”

The string of fires that erupted in Grant County all have been determined to be “human-caused,” including the Miller Fire, Benavidez said.

“We’ve seen fires caused by a catalytic converter, a burn barrel, a bullet, a welder and one that we highly suspect but can’t prove was started by fireworks,” Benavidez said. “This is fairly indicative of what we’re seeing right now. Any flame is going to start a fire.”

Benavidez said his main concerns right now are fireworks and dry lightning that occurs as the monsoon season approaches.

“The dry lightning, when it comes, it comes, we just have to deal with that,” Benavidez said. “But we can do something about fireworks. People need to really think twice, think about their communities, before they set off fireworks.”

The commission has been passing a proclamation on a monthly basis that bans the sale and use of fireworks, such as missile-type rockets, helicopters, aerial spinners, stick-type rockets and ground-audible devices.

“What’s really got me worried is if we see multiple fires at the same time, which could happen with fireworks,” Benavidez said. “So far, we’ve seen single-fire events that we could use all our resources to contain and suppress. But if we see multiple fires, our resources will be stretched thin.”

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