Smokey Bear signs utilized to inform public of fire danger

By Casey Peacock: PNT Staff Writer

As residents and visitors leave Portales via N.M. 206, N.M. 467 or U.S. 70, they will be seeing some new signs that are common in mountainous areas, but new to the Portales region.

The brown and yellow signs show a picture of Smokey Bear with his shovel. An interchangeable section is in the middle of the sign can list what the fire danger is for the day.

“We felt like it would aid in the prevention of wildfires in our county and educate the public as to the fire danger in our area,” Harlin Stobb of the Portales Fire Department said.

About a month before his retirement, Division Chief Darwin Chenault initiated the process of obtaining the signs for the area. Stobb and fellow firefighter Floyd Hancock volunteered to place the signs in the area, Stobb said.

Chenault explained that the signs are one of the first things people see when visiting the mountains and they serve as a reminder for people to be careful. In the past two years, the area has suffered damage from fires that were the cause of carelessness. By placing the signs around the area, he hopes it will help to prevent human-caused fires making a bad fire season worse, he said.

“It’s something that people can recognize. I just think it’s a great reminder,” Chenault said of the signs. “I think they (signs) will be very important in the fall or if we have a year like we did last year.”

Recent rains have caused an influx of tall grass and weeds in the area that turn into fuel. Along with the rains also come the thunderstorms that produce lighting and winds that can cause a wildfire to start. As the rain ceases and the fuel dries out, the fire danger goes up quickly, Stobb said.

“When the grass and weeds get dry, they can catch on fire much quicker and spread much faster,” Stobb said.

Though many of the fires are caused by Mother Nature, a percentage of the fires are also caused by man. A few simple acts such as burning trash in covered barrels or pits, using the ashtrays in vehicles, not burning on dry or windy days, keeping grass and weeds mowed short, and practicing fireworks safety are just a few of the steps that can be taken to prevent fires from starting, Stobb said.