By Miriam Rodriguez

WSMR Public Affairs

The ongoing fires around New Mexico are a reminder to White Sands Missile Range residents that high winds can create a high fire danger situation in the area.

Dry and Windy Weather Conditions Can Lead to Fire at WSMR

The ongoing fires around New Mexico are a reminder to White Sands Missile Range residents that high winds can create a high fire danger situation in the area.

WSMR Fire Chief Carlos Soto Jr. said WSMR is in a high fire danger area.

“There is a concern, especially with the extremely dry and windy weather conditions that we've been having in our area,” Soto said.

He said WSMR encompasses 2.14 million acres, and all its area is experiencing severe drought, dry vegetation, and high winds and thus all is in a high fire danger area. 

“This includes WSMR housing given the close proximity to the Organ Mountains and Aguirre Springs Recreational Area,” Soto said. 

He said local conditions have prompted the Bureau of Land Management to issue Fire Prevention Order #NMLC00000-22-01, effective May 2, 2022, until further notice. 

The order prohibits the following acts: Building, maintaining, attending, or using a fire, campfire, charcoal, coal, or wood stove, including in campgrounds and picnic areas.

The use of stoves fueled by pressurized liquid or gas, which can be turned off, is allowed within areas cleared of flammable materials at least 10 feet in diameter.

Also prohibited is smoking, except within an enclosed vehicle or building, developed sites and areas, or while stopped in an area at least 3 feet in diameter that is barren or cleared of all flammable materials.

Operating a chainsaw or any other internal or external combustion engine is also prohibited: without a USDA or SAE approved spark arrester properly installed and working, a chemical pressurized fire extinguisher of not less than 8 ounces capacity by weight and one round point shovel with an overall length of at least 36 inches.

In addition, possessing or using a motor vehicle off roads is also prohibited, except routes in areas open to OHV travel and except when parking in an area devoid of vegetation within 10 feet of the roadway.

Soto said WSMR residents should be vigilant to any sign of fire and report any sighting as quick as possible to (575) 678-1234 or 911. 

Residents are urged to give an accurate description and location of the fire. 

He said the WSMR Fire Department is equipped with quick fire attack units and trained personnel that can take swift action to try and contain any fire spread.

“Despite having the equipment and personnel, travel distance to a fire is a major obstacle WSMR firefighters face.  As a Result, any fire that starts has a good potential of becoming extremely active and could grow rapidly,” Soto said.  

There are several things residents can do to help prevent a fire.

Soto said WSMR residents should avoid using charcoal grills or commercially manufactured fire pits during times where winds exceed 15 mph.  At the conclusion of using charcoal grills or fire pits, hot coals must be quenched, and all fire embers completely extinguished.

The burning of leaves, dry grass, trash etc. in any residential area is prohibited. 

Dispose of any used cigarettes in a proper disposal container ensuring the cigarette is completely extinguished. 

The same careful attention should be given when going to local campgrounds or national parks. 

Soto said the WSMR Fire Department wants the community to have an enjoyable summer.

“We simply ask the community to be extra cautious when using fire. We do not want to face what the surrounding New Mexico communities have faced due to wildfires caused by human error,” Soto said. “The national average of human-caused wildfires is 87 percent. Most of these fires can be prevented and the WSMR Fire Department does not want to be included in that statistic.”

Questions regarding open burns or general fire safety can be made by calling the WSMR Fire Department Fire Prevention office at (575) 678-3585.

In 2018, the Abrams Fire in the Organ Mountains came very close to the housing area at White Sands Missile Range. During that fire, WSMR officials prepared a contingency plan in case the fire threatened the post area.

Soto said it is important for residents to always be prepared for any type of emergency, to include fire. This includes having a family plan.

Emergency Preparedness is key.

In a disaster, local officials and first responders cannot reach everyone immediately. Help may not arrive for hours or days. You and members of your community need to be prepared ahead of time.

Most disasters are natural disasters, the result of some force of nature, such as tornadoes, wildfires, hurricanes, and floods. Some natural disasters can be predicted, such as hurricanes and severe winter storms, while others, such as tornadoes and earthquakes, happen with little or no warning. Some disasters are the cause of human actions, intentional or unintentional. A disaster plan will help with safety, security, and comfort. Regardless of the type of disaster, there are things you can do to prepare.

General preparedness

•Discuss what to do in an evacuation, and don't forget to include the needs of those with disabilities.

•When told by officials, go immediately to a shelter as instructed or to the home of a friend or relative who lives out of the area. Find out about your local shelters beforehand.

•Know evacuation routes. Pre-establish several different routes in case certain roads are blocked or closed.

•Family members can become separated during an emergency. Be prepared by creating a plan for how to reach one another. Establish an out-of-area contact (such as a relative or friend) who can coordinate family members' locations and information should you become separated. Make sure children learn the phone numbers and addresses and know the emergency plans.

•Quiz children every six months so they remember what to do, where to go, and whom to call in an emergency.

•Decide how to take care of pets. Pets are not allowed in places where food is served, so you will need to have a place to take your pets if you must go to a shelter.

•Post emergency phone numbers (fire, police, ambulance, etc.) by the phone.

•Download NFPA's free safety tip sheets on a variety of emergency preparedness topics: hurricane safety, flood safety, portable generators, lightning safety, emergency supplies kit, candle safety.