Get a bear hug for fire awareness


By rEBECCA sAMULSKI

This month it has been 70 years since the U.S. Forest Service and Ad Council created Smokey Bear, over five years before a badly burned bear cub was recovered in the Lincoln National Forest in New Mexico, quickly becoming one of the best known icons the world has ever known. The world of wildfires has changed dramatically over those 70 years. Your ability to prevent human-caused wildfires has not!

Now that the fire ban has been suspended in Montezuma County, residents seem anxious to burn things. The county fire ban, when in effect, is an all-out ban against almost any open burning. While I tease family about having too many candles on their birthday cake, the reality is that tiny sparks can ignite dry grass. Suspending the fire ban to enable residents to use fire again does not mean it's time to burn everything.

Think of Smokey Bear as you look at the accumulated piles of tree branches, the barrels of household waste (it actually violates state health laws to burn trash any time), the ditch of weeds or even a campfire.

Call before you burn. It may not be one of Smokey's rules, but it is the law in Montezuma County. By calling dispatch at 565-8441 before you burn, you may avoid an unnecessary emergency response to your under-control burn. It doesn't hurt to let your neighbors know you are burning if you will be putting up much smoke. And, the second the fire gets beyond your control, don't hesitate to call 911 for help containing it before it does much harm.

Check the weather forecast. A safe open burn starts well before you ever make a spark. In addition to heeding information about the wind and humidity, make a good, non-combustible perimeter for your fire, have water on hand and plan to be there until the last coal is cold.

Keep your fires small. If you have a lot to burn, you can feed your smaller fire from a bigger pile until it is all gone.

Stay with your fire. If you cannot see it, you cannot control it.

Make sure your fire is out cold. Many fires rekindle days after a fire was thought to be out. Spread out your coals and stir in plenty of water and dirt until you can hold your bare hand up to the coals.

The summer monsoons have brought a slight relief from the heat, low humidity and desiccated vegetation that contributes to intense and sometimes dangerous wildfire scenarios. It does not mean the end of the wildfire season. Fire danger still oscillates from low to high daily, as the summers dead grasses and weeds dry out between the isolated showers. The living trees in our forests don't have the same moisture content that the same trees held when Smokey Bear was born. There are many, many more homes in these drier forests.

So be careful with fire and don't give your neighbors and firefighters more than natural lightning strikes to worry about. Maybe you'll just get the next big bear hug!

For more information or support for your wildfire preparedness, you may reach me at 970-564-7860 or montezumafirewise@gmail.com.