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Justin Schatz is The Paper's daily news reporter. He has reported on New Mexico for KRQE News, Searchlight NM and the Santa Fe Reporter.

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Fire Departments in Bernalillo County are preparing for what is expected to be a very difficult fire season. Over half of the state experiencing exceptional drought conditions and the current trend is predicted to continue well into the summer. “This summer looks like it’ll be a lot worse than last summer,” Mayor Tim Keller said at a press conference on Friday. 

An abysmal snowpack, compounded by a lingering drought, has many expecting a dry river and an even drier forest. The anticipated severity of this fire season was predicted this spring, and the Bernalillo County Fire Department (BCFD) has been preparing and taking a proactive approach to meet the upcoming challenges. “We really had a good jump on this,” said Joe Candell, Wildland Coordinator of BCFD. “At any given time, any given shift, we have 34 advanced firefighters ready to go,” he added. All of BCFD’s 225 firefighters are certified to combat wildland firefighters.

BCFD hopes that they can prevent the majority of fires before they happen with help from the community. The mayor called on Albuquerque residents to respect the Stage I fire restrictions that are in place in the city. “No smoking in the bosque and no campfires,” the mayor said. Stage I fire restrictions do not allow the construction of fire pits outside of designated areas, smoking, and use of machinery on city Open Space land.

Albuquerque Fire and Rescue Interim-Fire Chief Gene Gallegos is preparing for the worst this upcoming season. “The amount of fuel that we have in the bosque is very scary,” Gallegos said. Fires in the bosque in Bernalillo County in 2021 are expected to pass the number of fires in 2020. “We’ve had 12 bosque fires so far in 2021, compared to 13 in all of 2020,” he said. Gallegos emphasized the critical fire conditions in the state and cautioned everyone to be as responsible as possible while in Open Spaces. 


As summer approaches, officials are hoping to make it to monsoon season in July without a serious increase in fires. “Let’s get through June. June is likely the highest risk month,” Parks Director Dave Simmons said. City officials hope to keep Albuquerque’s Open Spaces accessible to the public during the upcoming months through fire season without having to shut them down.

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