The severe drought in Northern New Mexico has forced local leaders to impose burn bans across nearly the entire Taos County area.
Taos County, the town of Taos and the Carson National Forest have all instituted restrictive burn bans, outlawing open flames and charcoal grills ahead of the start of summer tourist season: Memorial Day weekend.
Violating the burn ban could carry hefty fines or an appearance in federal court.
“It is extremely dry,” said Taos Mayor Dan Barrone. “We did get a little moisture yesterday (May 21), but I haven’t seen it this dry in over 25 years.”
Not one square inch of the state is free of drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Taos County is one of several areas under the highest classification: “exceptional drought.” A few rain showers this week yielded only one-tenth of an inch of rain in the Taos area, according to the National Weather Service’s Albuquerque office.
The town council passed its burn ban Tuesday (May 22).
The ordinance bans campfires and charcoal-burning grills as well as open fires around vegetation, smoking within town parks and litter, such as cigarette butts, that might still be lit.
A separate resolution also bans fireworks for the upcoming summer events. “The sale and use of missile-type rockets, helicopters, aerial spinners, stick-type rockets and ground audible devices are banned within the affected drought area, which includes all unincorporated portions of the Town of Taos,” according to the resolution.
Taos Fire Chief Leroy Gonzales asked the public to not bring illegal fireworks purchased elsewhere into town. The council can extend the burn restrictions past June 22 if rains don’t come.
The county passed its burn ban last Tuesday (May 15). Its restrictions are much the same as the town’s, including on charcoal grills, but also includes bonfires, ceremonial fires and weed burning. “Violators will be subject to misdemeanor charges and possible fines,” according to a press release from Taos County.
Managers with the Carson National Forest imposed even more limits on fires in the forest. Stage 2 restrictions became effective Wednesday (May 23).
The forest went into its first round of fire restrictions two weeks ago, but under Stage 2 restrictions, no fires are allowed in the forest, including campfires and charcoal or wood stoves. Petroleum-fueled stoves, lanterns, propane gills or other heating devices are OK.
Other banned activities include smoking except within an enclosed vehicle or building, discharging a firearm except in a lawful hunt and using a motor vehicle off forest roads except when parking in an area devoid of vegetation within 10 feet of the roadway or overnight parking in Forest Service developed campgrounds and at trailheads. Fireworks are always banned on federally owned land. Other restrictions can be found online at fs.usda.gov/carson.
“Campfires on the national forest while under fire restrictions is a violation of law that requires a mandatory appearance in federal court, consequent fines and possible jail time,” read the Monday (May 21) press release from the forest.
The restrictions will remain in effect until weather and moisture conditions change, forest managers said. If conditions do not improve, the forest could enter Stage 3 restrictions, which is a full closure of the forest.