New burn ordinance proposed

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Every year, Valencia County Fire Chief Steven Gonzales warns residents and farmers about the dangers of open burning.

While the majority of those who do burn are usually responsible, there are still those who pose a threat not only to their properties but to others as well.

In an effort to better respond to the needs of farmers and residents as well as protecting the community at large, the county fire chief has drafted a proposed burn ordinance that he says will better protect the unincorporated areas of Valencia County.

"We've revised the burn ordinance and made alterations in reference to the farming community," Gonzales said. "We want to reach out to them and adopt a burn ordinance that's workable for them."

If adopted, the new ordinance would regulate what people can and cannot burn and when they can burn. According to the proposed ordinance, rubbish or garbage, oil waste, treated or painted wood, natural wood exceeding six inches in diameter or longer than four feet in length, asphalt, plastic and rubber can't be burned. The use of burn barrels will also not be allowed.

Open burning of leaves, weeds, brush, stumps, clean wood and other vegetative debris is allowed under the proposed ordinance.

At present, those who wish to burn are required to call the emergency dispatch line to see if burning is allowed that day. According to the proposed law, that practice will remain the same, but hours of burning will be expanded to one hour after sunrise and one hour before sunset, rather than the 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. current restriction.

Outdoor campfires and small bonfires for cooking, ceremonies or recreation are allowed, provided the fire is confined and under control.

Under the new ordinance, the fire chief can impose a burn ban if he deems that danger of forest, grass or structure fires are found to be high.

The penalty for violations would be a fine of not more than $300, 90 days in jail or both.

"This gives us some enforcement rights," Gonzales said. "For illegal type burns, the fire department can enforce the ordinance and cite people into court depending how serious the case is or how many occurrences we've had at a specific address."

Consideration of the proposed burn ordinance was on the county commission's agenda earlier this month, but it was tabled because Gonzales wants to get input from residents and farmers. Two public forums have been scheduled for comments on the proposed burn ordinance.

The first forum will be at 6:30 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 10, at the Tomé/Adelino Fire Department on N.M. 47, and the second at 6:30 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 12, at the Los Chavez Fire Department off N.M. 314.

"Anyone who has an interest in the burn ordinance and wants to know how we operate, and why we do the things we do and how we get our information should attend the forums so they can get a better understanding of what we do," the fire chief said.

Along with the burn ordinance, the Valencia County Emergency Services is working on publishing a public education brochure scheduled to be available in mid- February.

Robb Barr, the county's wildland coordinator, said the department has received a $15,000 wildfire risk reduction grant from the New Mexico Association of Counties to help pay for the brochure, which will provide information on fire prevention, the burn ordinance, tips on safe, open burning, fire danger ratings, how to maintain defensible space and how to keep homes safe in case of a bosque fire.


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