USA — ALBUQUERQUE – It’s definitely not feeling a lot like December with near record highs and zero moisture on tap, the state is drying up fast.
Crews are scrambling to prepare for what could be a second wildfire season, but the people who are doing the work are actually saving the state thousands of tax-dollars.
Clearing dangerous, dry brush is tedious and costly work. The brush can become easy fuel for wildfires. As New Mexico heads into another dry winter crews are working to clear out that fuel as fast as possible.
But it all comes with a cost, one that’s drastically cut when the state hires inmates to do the job.
Inmate crews cost $300 a day, a fraction of what a private company would charge.
“They look at things like what’s the ability to access the area, what’s the terrain like and all those things factor into costs so you could be looking at $1000 an acre,” explained Dan Ware a spokesperson for the NM State Forestry Dept.
News 13 caught up with a group of inmates clearing out a patch of Bosque in Pena Blanca. It’s a quarter of a mile stretch in between the Santa Domingo and Cochiti Pueblos. Due to the devastating Los Conchas fire last year, both pueblos flooded this year.
Now State Forestry is trying to prevent future flames.
“It’s not just to protect the trees the vegetation and the wildlife but also to protect the folks that live in and around those areas,” Ware said.
According to the National Weather Service severe and even extreme drought conditions are present throughout the state, and the last time Albuquerque saw any significant rainfall was in August.
That means much of the state’s Bosque is now a tinder box.
From many viewpoints along the Rio Grande, residents can see just how much work there is to do. The inmates doing it, though, say they like the job and are happy to reform the overgrown ecosystem while saving the state some green.
Inmates doing the work are all certified wild land firefighters. They’re also dispatched during fire season and can apply for jobs in the field once they’ve finished their sentences. The failure was in the forest areas.Advertisement
Following a 10-year strategy, ACT fire managers have created a mosaic across the landscape of different fuel levels, burning at every opportunity.
But forests have been too wet to burn this spring and the past two summers.
A network of 500 fire trails and strategic burns along the north-west urban edge, heavy grazing and extra grass slashing will create a fortress for the territory which forecasters say faces a higher than average risk this summer.
After a fire-fuelled tornado in January 2003 killed four Canberrans and frightened thousands more, CSIRO fire expert Phil Cheney told the subsequent inquiry the fire’s penetration into urban areas under extreme conditions did not reflect a failure of fuel management on the urban interface.