By Mary Alice Murphy
At the beginning of the Grant County Commission's regular meeting Thursday, May 22, 2014, Chairman Brett Kasten called for a moment of silence for Brett Ferneau, a member of the Santa Rita Volunteer Fire Department, who recently died.
The first to speak during public comments was Gabe Holguin, Gila National Forest fire officer.
The Signal Fire was at 5,484 acres and 90 percent contained. "There is fire line all the way around the fire, but there is always the possibility of internal torching, especially with thunderstorms possible today."
He said crews had done mop up 300 feet from the line several days ago and were securing and monitoring the fire lines. "The Type II incident team is on its last shift and at 2000 hours the Forest Service will take the fire over. We have two crews and two engines for the next week or so. We will reseed the fire lines and push brush over them. Toby Richards is the incident commander taking over this evening. There will be a close out meeting at 0900 Friday morning at the Business and Conference Center if you want to come."
Commissioner Gabriel Ramos said he knew the Forest Service attacked the fire quickly. "We appreciate it."
Holguin said the Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) team was out that day. "They have determined 1,244 acres were burned at high severity. Signal Peak Road is a major concern, so we want to do aerial seeding, similar to what was done on the Silver fire to stabilize the slopes. We also want to mitigate effects to the campgrounds."
He said the indices show that the energy release component is at better than 90 percent, nearing the 97th percentile. "There are no new records in the trend, but it is a little bit above average, but no historical maxes. We are still in severe drought for most of Grant County. Portions of the Burros are extreme. The 1,000-hour fuels such as logs are really dry—in the single digits—so we could have a lot of fires if they get starts. It's day-to-day with grass. With big winds, grass will carry fire. We still have a long season of at least a month. Initially, usually the thunderstorms are dry. It wouldn't surprise me to see more large fires on the Gila."
He said the forest has brought in a lot of resources on the forest. "We had two helicopters, but Arizona took one for the Slide Fire. Initial attacks are priorities, and it won't be difficult to get air tankers. We found the SEATs or single engine air tankers useful in the Signal Fire. We are trying to bring in more the next day or two. The Smokey Bear Hotshots from the Lincoln Forest are pre-positioned here."
Holguin said the Slide Fire on the Coconino National Forest was taking resources and had a pre-evacuation order for 300 homes northeast of Sedona. It was up to 3,000 acres and had 30 crews on it. "Our highest was 22 crews," Holguin said. "There's a fire on the Apache-Sitgreaves near Black Mesa and another one. Both are small and they have a handle on them. The Skunk Fire on the San Carlos Apache Reservation is at 33,000 acres."
"That's the one we got the smoke from," Kasten said.
"They are doing burnout to keep it within the roads," Holguin said. "The Gila National Forest is still in Stage 1 restrictions, since April 27. We have had three abandoned campfires, and, of course, the start on Signal Peak. We hold discussion almost daily about moving to Stage II, but we feel like we're getting pretty good compliance."
In answer to a question from this reporter about the Signal Fire start, Holguin said evidence had been sent to the lab for further investigation. He postulated:"it might have been a cigarette butt."
The next public comment was given by Barrett Brewer of the Grant County Community Foundation. "We have just begun our public awareness campaign."
She extended her sympathy to Commissioner Ron Hall and his family.
"We appreciate the proclamation for Give Grande," Brewer said. "We have been a charitable foundation for three years. We spent an entire year developing a common vision and a mission statement. Our focus is on supporting non-profits."
The foundation is a geographic affiliate of the Southern New Mexico Community Foundation in Las Cruces.
"We have a permanent foundation fund, which is growing," Brewer said. "We encourage people, if they live in Grant County, to give in Grant County. Our foundation is a vehicle for bequests and memorial gifts."
Over the past year, the group has developed by holding 41 interviews. An overview of a questionnaire is sent to people. "We still have over 70 on our interview list. We present a final report at the end of each year. We are serving as a coordinator for non-profits. During the recent Give Grande, which was funded by a coalition of community foundations, in Grant County to Grant County non-profits, we raised in 24 hours $56,852. Las Cruces raised $19,000. Nationwide, $50 million was donated by 330,000 unique donors. In New Mexico, $853,000 was donated, as the single largest charitable day in New Mexico. Thirty-seven non-profits in Silver City benefited that day. Freeport-McMoran gave us a $10,000 match for non-profits the company picked if each group met their goal of $1,000. Every one of them did."
A public hearing was held to consider a proclamation declaring extreme or severe drought conditions-imposition of fireworks restrictions.
County General Services and Fire Officer Randy Villa said he believed Holguin made the point that it's still dry out there. "I think this proclamation is good." It was approved.
The expenditure report for $809,306.19 was approved.
The Non-Profit Resource Group had requested time on the agenda to give an update, but no one was present to give the report.
Commissioners approved Public Employee Retirement Association reports from Santa Rita Volunteer Fire Department; and the intergovernmental vehicle transfer of a 2004 Chevy Cavalier from the Grant County Senior Programs to Corre Caminos Transit for $499.
Also approved was a memorandum of understanding amending promotional employment for the Road Department. According to Acting County Manager Abigail Robinson, the change amends the internal promotional process within the Road Department. The county manager and the road superintendent recommended approval of the MOU, which the Road Department employees had already approved.
Commissioners approved three resolutions:
• Adoption of policies and procedures for the Grant County Senior Programs, which Robinson said were to make sure the items were the same as the county's policies and procedures;
• Confirmation of the assessment roll for the Viva Santa Rita Subdivision Community Area Improvement District, which County Ordinance Officer Dolores Dominguez said the changes discussed at the work session were made and, as soon as it was signed, it would be filed at the Clerk's Office; and
• Publication of a notice of intent to adopt the Viva Santa Rita Subdivision Community Area Improvement District Assessment Levy Ordinance.
Dominguez said the latter would allow a 45-day grace period for people to pay in full before the 2.5 interest fees began. Robinson thanked Dominguez. "These are complicated, with a lot of detail, and she keeps doing them well."
As the Grant County Indigent and Health Plan Claims Board, commissioners approved 340 claims for $190,658.63.
During county reports, Sheriff Raul Villanueva said his department was preparing for a busy weekend. "With the Blues Festival and the holiday, I ask the public to be careful."
Deputy Assessor Eric Morales said the office is working on wrapping up the valuation protests. He also asked for prayers for Assessor Mary Guthrie and her family, as her mother was "not doing well."
Clerk Robert Zamarripa reminded the public of early voting this week and next. Next week is the final week of early voting, and "our office is closed Monday. We are open next week Tuesday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for early voting. Early voting also can be done at the Bayard Community Center Tuesday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The convenience centers and the rural precincts will be open on primary day, June 3, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. We can still send out absentee ballots and are receiving them up to 5 p.m. on June 3. You can call the office or print the ballot from the website. Turnout is still low."
Robinson said the county now owns the fuel tanks at the airport. "We are getting quotes for the fuel and they will be an item on the special meeting agenda next week."
Ramos reminded people to be careful with flames.
Kasten said the county was likely to see another month of fires. "And don't forget to vote."
The commissioners went into executive session to discuss the process for hiring a new county manager. Kasten said the meeting would adjourn from the executive session.
The special meeting will address approval of the preliminary budget and the purchase of fuel at 9 a.m. Wednesday, May 28, at the Grant County Administration Center.