Fire danger, drought spark fireworks concerns in New Mexico, Arizona
Pat Vasquez-Cunningham, Associated Press
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The fire season has been relatively mild across the West this year, but officials in New Mexico and Arizona are doing what they can to rein in the use of fireworks given the dry conditions and high fire danger plaguing both states.
New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez has been pushing hard for cities and counties to restrict the use of fireworks with local ordinances.
New Mexico's most populous cities are among the nearly two dozen municipalities and counties around the state that have already passed measures, but local and state land managers still fear the possibility of an uptick in fire activity heading into the Fourth of July holiday.
Dan Ware, a spokesman for the New Mexico State Forestry Division, said the state is experiencing one of its slowest fire seasons in the past decade. Still, nearly 90 percent of the 231 fires reported on state and private land so far this year have been caused by people.
Authorities say the human element, hot and windy weather and more opportunities to buy fireworks can make for a potentially dangerous combination.
"The big thing in the Albuquerque area is the use of illegal fireworks," Ware said. "No matter how many times we say it, people are going to go and get illegal fireworks and shoot them off. We see it all the time."
Just a week before the holiday, authorities announced they would be closing national forest lands that border Albuquerque's east side due to high fire danger.
Bernalillo County has banned all fireworks in wildland areas, including the foothills, throughout the East Mountains and along the Rio Grande.
The mountain communities of Angel Fire, Cimarron, Eagle Nest, Red River and Ruidoso have also limited the use of fireworks.
In Arizona, sales of fireworks are permissible statewide. But a recent change in state law means that cities in the state's two most populous counties — Pima and Maricopa — cannot ban the use of the fireworks around the July 4 holiday.
Other counties can limit fireworks use during times of high fire danger, and high-flying fireworks are banned everywhere.
Flagstaff and Tucson officials have been busy processing applications for those seeking permits to sell fireworks, but the use of fireworks in both cities is prohibited this year. In Prescott, where fireworks are also banned, officials are planning a community display but said it could be canceled if the weather becomes unfavorable.
In New Mexico, the governor began this year's campaign to limit fireworks in May.
"As the governor said in her letter to local leaders, she will continue to vigorously push for legislation to establish a mechanism through which communities and the state can tailor temporary, localized bans on the use of fireworks during dangerous conditions while still allowing for professional firework displays," Martinez spokesman Mike Lonergan said.
Police and fire officials in northwestern New Mexico began putting out public service announcements in mid-June, warning residents that fireworks violations could result in jail time and fines.
Just last week, a Farmington resident called police after hearing fireworks and walking outside to see his bushes ablaze. Police spokeswoman Georgette Allen said officers will have zero tolerance this year.
Associated Press Writer Felicia Fonseca contributed to this report from Flagstaff, Arizona.
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