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Wildfire Awareness Week Arrives with Spring in NM

New Mexico already has seen 80 wildfires in March, and 90 percent have been human-caused. (env.nm.gov)
New Mexico already has seen 80 wildfires in March, and 90 percent have been human-caused. (env.nm.gov)
March 28, 2018

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - New Mexico's wildfire season typically begins no sooner than May, but because there already have been more than 140 wildfires in the state since Jan. 1, Wildfire Awareness Week has been declared early this year - and continues through Saturday.

David Morgan, public information officer for the New Mexico Department of Health, said smoke from wildfires can hurt your eyes, irritate your respiratory system and aggravate chronic health conditions.

"Asthma is a serious health problem in New Mexico, so is heart ailments," he said, "and these are two conditions that can be affected due to heavy smoke inhalation during a wildfire."

When a wildfire occurs and smoke is visible, Morgan said, people with heart or lung disease, those age 65 and older, young children and pregnant women all should minimize outdoor activities.

According to the New Mexico State Forestry Division, 90 percent of the 80 fires during the month of March have been human caused.

New Mexico has experienced below-normal rain and snow this past winter. That, combined with wind, higher-than-normal seasonal temperatures and an abundance of potential fuel, has fire officials on guard.

When there's smoke in the air, Morgan said, people with health conditions should stay indoors and those without air conditioning should seek out places that have it, such as public libraries or senior centers. He said Wildfire Awareness Week is all about planning ahead, just in case.

"The experts have already estimated that fire season could be a tough one because of drought conditions around the state," he said, "and fires have the potential to be able to burn faster and hotter."

The New Mexico Environment Department operates air-quality monitors across the state. Even if your community doesn't have monitors, Morgan said, the low humidity generally makes it easy to see smoke in the air and take precautions.

Already this spring, 746 communities statewide have been identified as "at risk" from wildfire.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - NM