You probably saw the front-page stories last week about the tough wildfire season coming up, and they had a lot of good information (“Bracing for the big one,” March 18).
But there’s more to the good news, bad news story of wildfire and Santa Fe. It’s true that wildland fires are getting bigger and happening more often. That’s because forest health and density is changing, the climate is getting hotter and drier, and more homes are being built in what we call the Wildland Urban Interface — where people and nature come together.
The good news is that your Santa Fe Fire Department is already hard at work preparing for fire season: reducing risk, training to respond and educating the public. In fact, we’ve been a leader in wildland fire nationally and even internationally for a long time. It’s something we work hard at because we know Santa Fe’s dry climate and forest setting, while beautiful, put us and infrastructure like the watershed we depend on, at risk.
We work year-round to increase our ability to contain a fire. We were one of the first departments in the nation to have a dedicated Wildland Division. In partnership with Flagstaff, Ariz., a similar city with similar resources, we formed a joint crew that does preparedness work in both places and even responds to national incidents.
Our locally focused Atalaya Hand Crew is a 20-person team. In partnership with the New Mexico Youth Conservation Corps, the team promotes fire adaptation, engages in landscape project work and responds to contain active fires.
And as chief, I also sit on the Wildland Fire Leadership Council, a national organization that amplifies the work we do locally and further enhances Santa Fe’s position of leadership on this issue.
One of our groundbreaking partnerships, the Greater Santa Fe Fireshed Coalition, brings together 13 regional partners like the U.S. Forest Service to reduce risk and respond to fires collaboratively — as one team.
Fire is a concern for our entire community, and our entire community is part of the solution. You can be engaged and proactive in protecting Santa Fe, and we need your help. Our Wildland Division has conducted more than 2,000 on-site property evaluations, going out to houses and property in the Wildland Urban Interface areas to advise Santa Feans on how to make their properties more fire-safe.
As you read last week, restrictions will soon be in place to limit things that increase the risk of fire. On behalf of all of us who live here and all of us who work in fire response — I’m asking you to help us by sticking to those guidelines.
But we also want you to know everything there is to know about making your home and your family safer and more prepared for a fire. So if you want us to visit your homeowner association or community gathering, we would welcome the chance to come out, get to know you and your neighbors, and answer your questions. Contact Specialist Porfirio Chavarria at 505-955-3119 to learn more. We also are launching a series of preparedness and public information events, and I hope you will attend:
u Fireshed Awareness Spring Seminar Series: www.santafefireshed.org
6 to 7 p.m. April 4, 18 and May 2 at REI in the Santa Fe Railyard.
u Wildland Urban Fire Summit Free Community Event: tinyurl.com/yal68hbe
5:30 to 7 p.m. April 11 at The Lodge, 750 N. St. Francis Drive
u National Wildfire Preparedness Day, May 5
(Schedule of events to be determined)
You can always access resources and information on the Fire Department site at www.santafenm.gov/wildfire_prevention. And we work for you, so call us anytime.
The New Mexican editors said it best, “The threat of fire must be taken seriously by one and all.” In Santa Fe, fire protection is truly a communitywide, team effort. Your Fire Department is proud to lead the way.
Erik Litzenberg is chief of the Santa Fe Fire Department. He is a graduate of the National Fire Academy Executive Fire Officer Program and the Center for Homeland Defense and Security Executive Leadership Program, and represents the International Association of Fire Chiefs as a member of the Wildland Fire Policy Committee.