NM governor unveils wildfire-warning system

NM governor unveils wildfire-warning system

07 May 2012

published by www.sfgate.com

USA — New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and state forestry officials on Monday unveiled a new statewide email notification system for alerting residents of potential dangers from wildfire.

Martinez said the effort is aimed at raising awareness about the high fire danger around the state. With last year being the worst fire season in New Mexico’s recorded history with hundreds of square miles charred, she said access to timely and accurate information will be key for limiting the risk this year.

“Whether it’s here in the Albuquerque bosque, in rural or populated areas around our state or up in the mountains, we all have a duty to do what we can to inform, to help and to promote wildfire awareness,” she said during a news conference at the Rio Grande Nature Center in Albuquerque.

New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and other western states are bracing for a busy fire season given that drought conditions are spreading across the region. Many counties across the West have established emergency telephone and email notification systems to warn of wildfires, but New Mexico appears to have the only statewide notification system.

The creation of the email system comes six weeks after embers from a prescribed fire in Colorado sparked a blaze that killed three people, blackened 6 square miles and damaged or destroyed nearly two dozen homes.

In the case of the Lower North Fork fire southwest of Denver, county officials are revamping procedures following problems with an automated call system that was intended to send evacuation messages to residents.

In New Mexico, the State Forestry Division already pushes out fire notifications through its Twitter account and Facebook page, but officials expect thousands more to be reached through the email system.

State Forester Tony Delfin said it’s a big job getting out information when there are multiple fires burning around the state, as was the case last year when New Mexico experienced two historic fires — the Las Conchas and Donaldson blazes.

“During the initial attack of a fire, the information needs to get out to the public,” he said. “Prompt and accurate information can save lives.”

State forestry officials said they were simply looking for another way to get more information to the public than what they could get across in a 140-character Tweet.

Residents can sign up on the agency’s website. All that’s needed is an email address, first and last name and county or zip code.

Whenever there’s a fire on state land, those who are signed up will receive an email alert with details about the fire, its location, estimated size and any other important details such as potential threats to communities.

So far this year, nearly 150 fires have charred more than 7,600 acres in New Mexico. That’s a fraction of what had burned by this time last year. Over the past two fiscal years, Delfin said some 1,440 fires have blacked more than 1 million acres on state and private property alone.

Forestry spokesman Dan Ware said the new email system is compatible with smartphones and tablets.

“We’re trying to do as much as we can to cover the state and really anybody who wants this information,” he said.

Martinez described the system as innovative, saying people with family members in other states will also be able to keep up with the latest fire information to find out if their loved ones are safe.

The governor also encouraged New Mexicans to sign up through the new nonprofit Housing for Emergency Evacuated and Displaced, or HEED, to host families displaced by wildfire. HEED evolved from last year’s efforts by Kristin Derr to find temporary homes for those forced from Los Alamos during the Las Conchas fire.

Martinez talked about her visits to several emergency shelters last year and the hardship she saw in the eyes of many evacuees.

“It became apparent that some families, especially with small children and the elderly, had a more difficult time sleeping on the shelter cots, and it was difficult transitioning into the very strange circumstances of a shelter,” Martinez said.

HEED fills that gap, she said, by offering a home in the midst of a crisis. By the end of the last fire season, she said Derr had placed dozens of families in host homes.

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