State emphasizes lesser known causes of fire

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE ) – Fireworks, campfires, smoldering cigarettes, they’re common causes of fire we all know. Yet, there are several causes you might not know about and state forestry officials say, you should.

Lightning or lightning storms like we saw Thursday night have sparked less than 15 percent of the fires we’ve seen on state and private land this year. So, what’s caused the other 85 percent?

March 2011 near Silver City, the Quail Ridge Fire chewed through 1,500 acres, destroyed more than a dozen homes. It killed two horses and cost an estimated $300,000 all from a spark from a catalytic converter.

Just a month later, a blown tire ignited thousands of acres on the edge of Clovis.

It was an eye-opening year for state forestry officials spurring them to find a way to curb this disturbing trend.

“Every year, we see more human caused fires than lightning caused fires and that’s stayed pretty steady,” says State Forestry Division’s Dan Ware.

Yet, it’s not just campfires or cigarettes thrown out of car windows.

“It’s driving across the state, it’s driving across town. It’s using equipment in the back yard or out in the field. It’s things people don’t normally think about,” explains Ware.

It’s why they’re pushing a new campaign, One Less Spark, to raise awareness about the everyday activities that can spark massive wildfires. Just since January, the State Forestry Department has seen 259 fires on state and private land, burning more than 10,000 acres.

The leading cause is equipment use, everything from trailer chains igniting brush on the freeway and blown tires to ranching and farm equipment. Equipment use has sparked 61 wildland fires and burned 9,026 acres.

“Mostly what we see, especially early on in the year, are roadside starts,” Ware says.

Debris burning is the not so close second leading cause, having ignited 67 fires and burned through 437 acres. In fact, it’s the culprit of the Assayii Fire last month and one of the reasons why State Forestry officials want New Mexicans to take personal responsibility for their land.

“It’s any given time, any given place in New Mexico, given the right weather conditions and the lack of humidity, we could get a fire going and it’s up to us as New Mexicans to make sure we’re not contributing to that problem,” Ware explains.

State Forestry officials say, they’re not just talking about fire prevention, they’re also emphasizing vehicle maintenance, ensuring your exhaust system is working properly and your tires are in good shape.

They also add, campfires haven’t been as big of a problem this year but, they’re still urging folks to stay vigilant.

Click here for checklists, tips, suggestions and other ways to reduce the number of fires.

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