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Grant County Commission hears weather outlook and fire update

At the Grant County Commission regular session this morning, commissioners held three public hearings.

As part of the first public hearing, Gabe Holguin, Gila National Forest Fire Staff officer, presented the predicted fire weather and drought outlook. "We are expecting a couple of days of dry lighting today and tomorrow."

He said the Forest Service has adequate resources to continue to fight the Silver Fire and new ones that might occur from lightning strikes.

As far as the drought is concerned, the energy release component of fuels is in the 97th percentile, meaning very extreme drought. "It is similar to last year."

The June outlook is for no significant precipitation, above normal temperatures and an above normal fire potential. Holguin said predictions for the monsoon have varied from early and robust to late and spotty. "The prediction is for the monsoon to begin the second week in July. My experience is it is usually July 4th. These dry lightning events are leading up to the monsoon. In the meantime, there is an extremely strong possibility that the area will get to the exceptional drought designation."

He said the Forest Service is still in Stage 1 fire restrictions. "We have had a high compliance this year, with only one human-caused incident. It was at the Aldo Leopold Outlook on the way to Glenwood. We are still discussing whether to go to Stage 2 restrictions."

Commissioners then approved a proclamation declaring an extreme or severe drought and imposing the strictest fireworks restrictions allowable by state statute.

Public hearing No. 2 addressed an emergency ordinance declaring a fire hazard emergency to protect the county. County Attorney Abigail Robinson said one minor change from the one presented to commissioners at the Tuesday work session clarified the use of covered propane grills only in a cleared or concrete area, unless an enforcing officer deems the grill unsafe. Commissioners approved the ordinance.

County Manager Jon Paul Saari said he had spoken to County Emergency Manager Gilbert Helton about the possibility of having an emergency declaration, which would open up funding possibilities. The issue will be addressed at the June 27 meeting.

Public hearing No. 3 addressed an ordinance entitled County Capital Outlay Gross Receipts Tax. Commissioners approved the .25 percent GRT increase for area infrastructure needs, with implementation due Jan. 1, if approved by voters in a mail-in ballot election slated for Aug. 19.

During public input, Yolanda Molano said this year is the 100th anniversary of Relay for Life, which raises funds to fight cancer. "We are having a dinner this evening for more than 100 survivors. We are asking you to declare June 24-30 as Relay for Life Week and ask for your support."

Commission Chairman Brett Kasten explained the proclamation could not be made in time, because it was not on the regular agenda for the meeting, and the next meeting would be after the event. "But we support your event."

He asked Holguin to give an update on the Silver Fire.

Holguin said the most current infrared map created about 10 p.m. the previous night, showed 17,000 acres. On the south end of the fire, the Forest Service was improving roads to allow access to create an indirect fire line.

Commissioner Gabriel Ramos, who opposes the travel management plan to close roads in the forest, said: "See, roads are good."

"As the fire approaches, we will do burnouts," Holguin said. "We may also do aerial ignitions at night on the south end. On the north end of the fire, it is approaching the wilderness. We have only trails in the area. We are scouting to find places to put in control lines, but there are not a lot of opportunities. We may have to herd the fire into the Aldo Leopold Wilderness, where there are old fire scars to slow it down."

Commissioner Ron Hall confirmed the fire was moving southward.

"Yes, it is following fuels," Holguin said. "When we had easterly winds yesterday, we initiated a burnout around Kingston. We created a buffer of black around Kingston. The winds are expected to switch to the southwest. We believe Kingston is secure, with the only real threat a large plume collapsing into the town. But there is not much fuel under the piñon and juniper, because the grasses are low."

He explained a plume builds up energy when the smoke rises, especially on unstable days with a high Haines index. When the smoke makes a vertical movement and gets so high it starts cooling, it eventually drops. The wind up high could push the column. When it collapses it can spread in all directions. "If there is only a little wind, we can predict where it will fall."

Also during public input, Robin Scott of Central, said 13 years ago he told the commissioner what could be done with the little historic golf course at Fort Bayard. "If it were done correctly, and it would be easy to rebuild, we could bring in kids. We would only need some magnetite and some sand. The county needs to take over the facility. I suggest you do it on donations, but we need a public entity to take care of the funds. It would cost less than $10,000 and could be done within a month. It would be good for low income people." He asked people to call him about the project at 537-3071.

Kasten said the county has been working to gain control of old Fort Bayard.

Future articles will cover the rest of the meeting.

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