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GNF Fire Officer Says Forest Service to Aggressively Fight Fires This Season

Editor's Note: This is part 2 of an unknown number of articles about the Grant County Commission regular session. This author will also combine county reports from the work session and the regular session into one subsequent article.

Grant County Commissioners at their regular session Thursday morning heard several more updates and addressed the rest of their agenda, including an update late in the meeting from Gila National Forest Fire Management Officer Gabe Holguin, who said the Forest Service this year would be doing aggressive suppression on fires before the monsoon season.  Other updates were from The Wellness Coalition Non-Profit Resource Center, the Juvenile Probation Office, and the Southwest Green Chamber of Commerce.


At the end of the meeting, at the request of Commisssioner Gabriel Ramos, Commission Chairman Brett Kasten called on Gabe Holguin of the Forest Service to give a fire update.

"The Gila National Forest is preparing for fire season, working with the volunteer fire departments to work with the homeowners on property preparation," Holguin said. "The consensus based on the drought is that it is pretty extreme. The strategy this year will be to suppress any lightning- or human-caused fires quickly. Depending on the monsoon, we may look at managing for benefits when conditions are right. Fire is our decay process. But between now and the monsoons, we will be aggressive on suppression.

"We are already in fire season, so we are working with the volunteer fire departments on evacuation," Holguin continued. "When to leave and where to go. If people get out, then firefighters can get in to fight the fires. The Ready, Set, Go program is excellent. I will give a plug to the county to continue to support their volunteer fire departments, because they are the front line."

He said statistics show that 55 percent of homes that burn down are because of an ember coming from up to a mile away. Only 5 percent burn from a wall of flames, so "clean your gutters, look at the composition of your roof, and prepare your property."

Commissioner Ron Hall said he had seen helicopter activity.

"There was a controlled burn on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, and there have been several human-caused fires around Luna and Reserve," Holguin reported. "We had one on Little Walnut Road that was a big trash bonfire, likely human-caused, since we haven't had any lightning."

At the airport are already resources, such as helicopter engine crews, two Hotshot crews, and at the beginning of May, there will be a heavy helicopter and heavy air tanker posted at the airport.

Hall asked if the sequester had impacted the Forest Service.

"We have the same staffing," Holguin said.

County Assessor Randy Villa encouraged homeowners to get together on the Ready, Set, go program. "No woodpiles next to your back door. It's been really dry, so are there lower fuels?" he asked Holguin.

"It varies, but yes," Holguin said. "In the timbered areas, it's the pine needles. In the piñon-juniper, there is less grass."

County Manager Jon Paul Saari said the cleanup recently by the Western New Mexico University football team gathered a dumpster full and half another full of brush taken out of residents' yards.

"I did a fire readiness training," Holguin said. "I had a discussion with the firefighters and asked if the public is being responsible. The general consensus is yes, homeowners are being responsible and are getting prepared."

Kasten asked how extreme the fire conditions are.

"We are at 80 percent moisture in live fuels," Holguin said. "That is extremely low. The potential is for a fire season similar to last year. The Gila River is way below normal. The live fuels are dry. The dry fuels are dry at an energy release component of 70, which is low. Extreme conditions are out there this year."

Kasten also expressed his appreciation to Holguin for helping the county find a fire management officer.


Early in the meeting, Lisa Jimenez of The Wellness Coalition Non-Profit Resource Center gave an update on what the funding from the county is supporting.

"Our job is to strengthen non-profits," Jimenez said. "These organization provide services that are important to the county. We function as a combination chamber of commerce and small business development center for the non-profit sector. With capacity building, we strengthen them. We adapt best practices to a rural area."

The programs the center uses are tailored with a lot of flexibility to meet the needs of individual clients. She cited the programs they have, including free curbside consulting on Wednesday morning from 9 to noon. "We are often able to connect people with great ideas and passion to existing non-profits." The center also has a subscription service to an online searchable database for grant opportunities. Strategic consulting by vetted consultants is underwritten by Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc., with the client paying $20 an hour.  Also offered are workshops and training, with a mix of face-to-face and online programs.

A recent course addressed asset mapping, which is a tool to determine services and gaps. "We are laying the groundwork to work with the Grant County Community Health Council as it develops its plan and profile to determine its priorities."

She described Collective Impact, which requires broad cross-sector coordination to achieve a common goal. Unlike regular collaboration, Collective Impact offers a dedicated staff and structure. The potential next step will be the Health Council and the Non-Profit Resource Center working together as the backbone for the Collective Impact program. "We need agreement on issues to be addressed."

"I have never seen a community more civic-minded and focused on improving the community," Jimenez concluded.

Chris Arvidson of the Juvenile Probation Office reported on the use of surveillance and monitoring bracelets with youths. "We have three monitors working with kids. We have 22 required by the court to be monitored; 19 in informal monitoring; and 12 in courtesy monitoring. Five county bracelets on the informal monitoring can also be used on the courtesy ones. The courtesy program is being pushed recently. Sixty-three bracelets were being utilized last year for informal clients, courtesy clients and formal clients. The average stay with the bracelet is 19 days. We have good cooperation with law enforcement."

He said 100 youths last year were in informal monitoring; 219 in formal; and 60 in courtesy. "We have had more than 4,800 visual contacts since July 1, with 87 violations, six detainments and 20 drug tests."

Commissioner Ron Hall asked for a spreadsheet with the use of the bracelets and when the contacts with the clients were.

Arvidson asked if he wanted the reports on surveillance and GPS. Hall confirmed that.

"We count on your continued support," Arvidson said.

Hall said, as a former judge, he has seen that the JPO personnel "truly care for the kids."

The next update was from Cissy McAndrew, Southwest New Mexico Green Chamber of Commerce executive director.

"The visitation at the Visitor Center is starting to go up," McAndrew reported. "Our low was 745 in January. Weather affects us. We have had more than 12,000 people from July through today. We will break our goal of 15,000 this year. Looking at daily averages, the low was in January again at 24.83. In April so far, we've had a daily average of 52.33. We have visitors from all 50 states and many foreign countries. Sometimes, we have to bring in translators."

She said the new Visitor Guide is available, and the group is updating the map to include more of the county. "We are working in Silver City on risk assessment and on how climate change will affect us. When it gets even warmer in El Paso, Tucson and Phoenix, I think it will benefit us."

McAndrew said the green chamber is working well with the new Arts and Cultural District director, George Julian Dworin. "We are all working together."  She said she would attend the governor's conference on tourism to learn how to better market with local and state dollars. She reported restaurants are seeing more customers. McAndrew cited upcoming events, such as the Tour of the Gila, Cinco de Mayo, Blues Festival, golf tournament, Independence Day, Clay Festival and the Chicano Music Festival, as well as Fort Bayard Days and the county fair. "We would like to revitalize Mining Days from the past."

"With the Arts and Cultural District, we have a memorandum of understanding looking to set up more trails, like art, food, clay, motorcycle and such to connect with other communities," McAndrew said. "We are coordinating to build a sustainable economy."

Hall asked what the biggest draw for visitors is. History, sights?

MdAndrew said it was a cross-section, with many coming for the history and culture, to visit the Cliff Dwellings, and some coming for independent restaurants. "The No. 1 way they are finding out about us is through family and friends. That's why we're using social media. George is working on why people move here. We continue to have a good quality of life to attract people who want to experience it with us."

To a question about recreational vehicles, McAndrew said RVs, during the winter, stay on the I-10 corridor, because they use less propane and make day trips to Silver City, but in warmer weather they stay in the county.

"Were always looking for volunteers for the Visitor Center," McAndrew said. "It's rewarding to share your community with others."

County Assessor Randy Villa asked how the green chamber was working on hunting and fishing and with the Forest Service.

"We have a great relationship with the Forest Service, with a direct link from our website," McAndrew said. "The Forest Service is a wonderful resource. We carry their informational materials for when they are closed. We are trying to keep tourism alive in Glenwood and the Catwalk.

The next article will cover what was approved in the regular session, as well as county reports from the work session and the regular session.

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