Conditions ripe for grass fires

Argen Duncan

With a large fuel load and little moisture, county fire officials are concerned about serious grass fires this spring.

Floyd Fire Chief Allen Deen said he had read a story from KOB.com that indicated the National Weather Service predicted this year could have the worst fire season in 30 years as winds pick up due to La Nina.

“We’re just a tinder box right now,” Deen said, also mentioning the abundant tall grass that could fuel fires.

Portales Fire Chief Gary Nuckols said conditions are favorable for a bad fire season in Roosevelt County, but believed it was speculation to say it could be the worst. He said the county could have high fire danger from a lot of dried vegetation left from last year’s precipitation, high winds, low humidity and high temperatures.

“The combination of those is not necessarily a point for prediction, but it definitely sets us up for strong (fire danger) conditions,” he said.

Portales and Floyd firefighter Jeff Essary said the area has the heaviest fuel load he’s seen since before the 2005 Floyd fire that burned tens of thousands of acres. However, he said county fire departments have more equipment for fighting grass fires now.

Nuckols said the area’s fire season begins when vegetation dries out after the early winter freeze and continues until moisture comes in the spring or summer. Lightning striking without rain and humans cause fire danger.

“Hopefully we won’t have too many of them, if people use common sense and watch what they’re doing,” Nuckols said.

Deen said the instance of human-caused fires in Roosevelt County is low. In Floyd’s district, he said, lightning causes nearly all grass fires.

This weekend, Portales Fire Department is hosting a wildland fire refresher course, which the State Forestry Division requires every year for departments to receive reimbursement for fighting grass fires. The Floyd Fire Department is holding a training class for initial certification to fight wildland fires for the next two weekends.

Personnel from all seven county fire departments are expected to participate.

In preparation for fires, Deen and Nuckols said they’ve been making sure their vehicles are in good condition.

Firefighters battle grass fires with large four-wheel drive trucks that pump water while moving, small “brush trucks” to handle fires in soft soil and tight spots, and large tanker trailers with water, Essary said. County road graders creating fire breaks help a great deal to control a fire as well, he said.

Nuckols said firefighters also keep abreast of wind forecasts during fire season.

“We get a little concerned with windy weather patterns,” he said.

Also, Deen said Floyd and Arch have each just finished installing a 40,000-gallon water tank at a station, meaning trucks don’t have to come into Portales for water.