Editorial: Be cautious when using fire outdoors

New Mexico's wildfire season already is living up to its billing as another one to dread.

Picture an inferno larger than the largest city in New Mexico. At more than 266 square miles — 80 square miles larger than Albuquerque — you have the Whitewater-Baldy Fire in the Gila National Forest. It is the largest fire in recorded New Mexico history and, at least last week, was the largest fire burning in the U.S.

About 1,200 firefighters from around the state are battling the behemoth that formed when two lightning-started fires merged in a remote mountainous area.

The fire surpassed last year's record-breaking 156,293-acre Las Conchas Fire in the Jemez Mountains. By Thursday, it had burned more than 190,000 acres.

The Whitewater-Baldy Fire is an iconic reminder of what years of drought conditions have wrought. Mountain snowpack has been low. Summer monsoons haven't helped out much, either. The forests are at tinderbox conditions, and all it takes are roaring winds, lightning strikes and dry air masses to ignite havoc.

Or an act of human carelessness.

In addition to beseeching Mother Nature and the rain gods for relief, New Mexicans can take precautions to make sure man doesn't contribute to the problem. As usual, residents should clear brush and vegetation from around their homes and forest visitors should obey all restrictions on campfires or open burning.

It's a shame the Legislature did not see fit to allow local and state governments to ban sales of fireworks during times of high fire danger. Perhaps lawmakers will be more open to reason and logic next session.

For this year, even the most rabid fireworks fans should take a long, hard look at the destruction at Whitewater-Baldy before deciding whether to use them. Extreme care and common sense are in order.

After all, preserving New Mexico's great outdoors really is everyone's responsibility.

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