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Brush burns increase risk of wildfire

Burn permits are required within Farmington city limits, county regions
Fire crews responded to an 8-acre brush fire about 11 a.m. May 2 in the area of County Road 4800, Bloomfield. The fire was contained about 2:30 p.m. (Photo courtesy of SJCFR Facebook post)

With more people engaged in spring cleanup and burning of debris, the risk of a controlled burn turning into a wildfire increases. The state of New Mexico requires a burn permit for any burning of organic material and restricts the burning of household trash.

Farmington Fire Marshall Brandy Vega said that city residents may obtain burn permits from area fire stations. When applying, residents will be advised if burning is allowed that day, and for how long a fire may remain active. The fire department also makes daily announcements on burn conditions on its Facebook page.

When a permit is requested, a member of the fire department will travel to the permit location and inspect the burn area and conditions. If conditions are determined to be safe, the permit will be issued, Vega wrote in an email. There is no cost for the inspection or permit, but they must be issued at the burn location.

Vega said the fire crew that responds to extinguish an unpermitted fire will advise of the burn policy on a first-time incident. Further incidents may result in fines and jail time for misuse of fire.

Conviction of misuse of fire carries penalties of a $500 fine and up to 90 days in jail under Section 307 of the International Fire Code.

If a person has a burn permit, but the fire gets out of hand and requires emergency action, Vega said that person could also be charged under with misuse of fire.

Vega advised that anyone who has been issued a burn permit should be prepared for containment with a water source and make sure the area around the fire is free of combustibles or is barren. A burn pile must not be larger than 3 feet by 3 feet by 3 feet, and must be attended at all times.

If a person burns during a red flag warning, or no burning day, he or she may also be charged for misuse of fire. The person who started the fire can also be sued in civil court by anyone who had property affected by the fire, Vega wrote.

For residents who live in unincorporated county areas, the city of Bloomfield or the town of Kirtland, burn permits may be obtained by calling (505) 334-1180. There is no cost for permits.

San Juan County spokesman Devin Neeley said in an email, “Our first line of enforcement is education, but repeat offenders can be cited.”

As with the city of Farmington, citations may be issued in the county for burning without a permit and burning on red flag warning days, Neeley said. Citations may also be issued for permitted burns that get out of control. Those citations are a misdemeanor offense and carry a fine of up to $300.

County burn permits are issued for small agricultural burns and piles of organic material no larger than 3 feet by 3 feet. Larger burns are handled on a case-by-case basis by contacting Fire Operations, Neeley said.

Each day’s recommendation for burning is based on the forecast and uses a specific scientific method to classify each day as “burn,” “limited burn” or “no burn.” Neeley said that wind is always a consideration and highly variable based on location.

San Juan County Fire and Rescue posts daily burn conditions on its Facebook page.

In the past 30 days, the county has issued eight “OK to burn” days, 11 “limited burn” days and 12 “red flag warning” days. In April, there were 13 brush fires around the county, Neeley said.

On a burn day, fires must be extinguished by sundown. Limited burning means all fires must be extinguished by noon, Neeley said.

A red flag warning is issued by the National Weather Service and is based on specific values of estimated, sustained and gusting winds, as well as relative humidity. These factors, when combined, determine whether critical fire weather is expected and if they will contribute to extreme fire behavior on a specific day.

“If a red flag warning is issued by the NWS, we will always abide by that warning,” Neeley said.

In San Juan County, burn days permits are only issued from 7 a.m. to noon Monday to Friday, and may be obtained by calling Fire Operations at (505) 334-1180. On weekends and holidays, burn permits are issued by calling San Juan County Communications Authority at (505) 334-6622.

For more information on county burn permits, visit sjcfirerescue.net/burn.

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