ALBUQUERQUE – About 2,000 people from around New Mexico and as far away as Russia have signed up for an online notification system aimed at giving the public the latest information about wildfires burning around the state.
The system is being tested by what has so far been a busy season. The number of subscribers climbed as two record-setting blazes broke out in New Mexico in May and June, State Forestry spokesman Dan Ware said.
The Whitewater-Baldy Fire, the largest in the state’s recorded history, charred more than 465 square miles of the Gila National Forest. Meanwhile, the Little Bear Fire near Ruidoso was the most destructive, having burned more than 240 homes.
State forestry officials said the system is simply another way to get more information to the public than what they could get across in a 140-character tweet.
“It’s just about trying to get the word out,” Ware said. “I think folks appreciate getting the information all at once, and with each year as we improve our information distribution, this will help to dispel any misinformation.”
Residents can sign up on the agency’s website. All that’s needed is an email address, first and last name and county or ZIP code.
Gov. Susana Martinez and state fire officials introduced the notification system in early May. Since then, dozens of notifications have gone out letting residents know everything from how many acres have burned, to the number of firefighters battling the flames, the terrain they are working in, whether any homes have been destroyed and if evacuations are in order.
“Unfortunately, we have had another very destructive fire season,” Martinez told The Associated Press in a statement. “During times of emergency, this kind of information is invaluable.”
According to the State Forestry Division, all but about 250 of those who have signed up for the service live in New Mexico. Bernalillo, Catron, Colfax, Doña Ana, Grant, Lincoln and Los Alamos counties have among the highest participation, Ware said.
New Mexico’s largest blazes are nearly contained and the summer rains have started, but land managers around the state say fire danger remains high. In the last week alone, New Mexico had 59 new fires, most of them sparked by lightning.
“The potential is definitely still there,” Ware said. “If we dry out, then we could very easily see some of these 59 fires get big. We’ll need some consistent moisture statewide before the fire danger goes away.”
Another concern has been post-fire flooding.
Forecasters with the National Weather Service have issued flood watches and advisories for the areas around the Whitewater-Baldy Fire, parts of Lincoln County and areas charred by last year’s massive Las Conchas Fire near Los Alamos.
On Thursday, Lincoln County emergency management officials reported heavy flows in creeks and canyons around the Little Bear Fire. More rain was expected Friday and officials warned of possible flash flooding.