Local wildfire prevention plan in the works; survey online

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Local fire officials are asking for the public's input about prevention of wildfires and how they can better prepare for a catastrophic event in Valencia County.

Robb Barr, wildland coordinator for the Valencia County Fire Department, said residents can fill out a 10-question survey online to help officials determine which areas are at risk for wildfires.

The survey, which focuses the county burn and weed ordinances, is free and is part of the Valencia County Community Wildfire Protection Plan.

The plan will identify and prioritize risk areas and recommend actions for homeowners to reduce their fire risk. The survey asks residents about weeds and brush that could be near their property.

Barr said the plan, which came from a $50,000 grant from the New Mexico Association of Counties, would update a 2007 plan and include all boundaries within the county. An environmental consultant will help develop the plan.

"I didn't want to do (just) the bosque," Barr said. "I wanted to do all of our county boundaries."

The wildland coordinator said the plan should help mitigate effects of catastrophic wildfire and show areas that have a significant fuel load. Those areas could range from the Los Lunas River Park to overgrown pastures.

Barr said the plan isn't a short-term blueprint for crews who need to immediately respond to an area.

Instead, it's a long-term map of high-fuel areas that crews and residents will be educated on in case the catastrophic happens.

"It's not an operational plan," Barr said. "It's to get everyone on the same page ― to see what residents find important."

Residents can take the survey at www.surveymonkey.com/s/SN6QV2B or visit the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ValenciaCountyCWPP.

Valencia County Interim Fire Chief Steven Gonzales said officials want to educate the public on the importance of burning trash and weeds safely. He said officials don't want to stop farmers from burning off their crops.

"That's the part that we want to mitigate," Gonzales said. "We want to take care of the people burning trash. But we don't want to affect the farming side of it on open burning. We want (farmers) to be able to re-germinate their fields."

Barr said the community wildfire protection plan will open the door for Valencia County to receive future grants.

He said the plan is expected to be completed by Wednesday, Oct. 31.

Future grants would allow officials to come up with an advertisement campaign and website to further educate the public.

For now, officials are satisfied with what their current grant will bring to Valencia County residents. Once it's complete, residents can see online maps of where potentially hazardous areas are located.

Barr said fire crews are already better preparing themselves for future wildfires. He said this year, there has been a 51 percent increase in firefighters that received wildland certification training.

The wildland coordinator said residents should take a few minutes to help officials determine what elements should be included in the blueprint.

The survey can be completed with a few simple clicks of the mouse.

The survey includes questions that involve how residents would rate their home for a potential risk of fire and which actions would best prepare the community for a wildfire.

"The input is going to help us," Barr said.


-- Email the author at bruffner@news-bulletin.com.