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County joins city in banning most fireworks

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SANTA FE – With wildfires raging in parts of New Mexico, the Bernalillo County Commission approved a ban on aerial fireworks hours after Gov. Susana Martinez urged local government leaders to enact restrictions in time for the Fourth of July holiday.

Last week, Albuquerque city councilors approved a ban on the sale and use of certain kinds of fireworks, such as aerial devices, while also prohibiting the use of any fireworks in open space and wildland areas. The city of Santa Fe has adopted similar restrictions.

Martinez, who has sought legislation that would expand state and local governments’ authority to ban fireworks in times of extreme drought, said in a letter to county and city officials she is “very concerned” about the possibility that fireworks could spark new blazes.

“Having witnessed hundreds of homes and thousands of acres destroyed by wildfires in New Mexico, I urge you to please hold this emergency meeting this week and take appropriate action, given the fire danger that may be present in and around your community,” Martinez said in her letter Tuesday.

The Bernalillo County Commission’s unanimous vote Tuesday evening bans the sale and use of “missile-type” fireworks, in addition to helicopters, rockets, and “ground-audible” fireworks.

Also, the ruling limits ground and handheld fireworks and sparklers to barren and paved areas and areas with a ready source of water.

The ban affects all unincorporated parts of Bernalillo County.

“I don’t think any of us has seen a drought like this,” Commission Chairwoman Maggie Hart Stebbins said. “Use of fireworks under these conditions just puts so many people at risk.”

Bill Fulginiti, executive director of the New Mexico Municipal League, said Tuesday that he estimates roughly two-thirds of New Mexico communities have already enacted seasonal restrictions on fireworks.

“We anticipate probably even more taking action on them now,” Fulginiti said.

Under current state law, cities and counties can ban the use of some fireworks – including rockets and Roman candles – at any time.

However, sparklers, fountains and other types of fireworks can be restricted only in cases of “severe and extreme drought.” In such cases, local government entities have to issue a proclamation with the restrictions by June 14, at least 20 days before the Fourth of July.

Even with the restrictions in place, individuals can still set off allowed fireworks in designated sites – areas that are paved, barren or have water nearby.

However, Albuquerque Fire Chief James Breen encouraged residents to attend professional Fourth of July fireworks shows – such as the one held at Albuquerque Isotopes Park – instead of setting off their own fireworks.

Meanwhile, Martinez vowed in her letter to continue pushing for legislation that would allow cities, counties and the state to enact a broader ban on fireworks during extreme fire danger conditions.

“As state leaders, we must do everything within our power to keep New Mexicans, and their families, safe,” the Republican governor wrote.

Dry conditions and high fire danger have also prompted other types of restrictions, as the state recently barred campfires and open burning at state parks. Similar restrictions have been ordered in national forests and on Bureau of Land Management land.

Closures have also been ordered for the Sandias, much of the Rio Grande bosque in the Albuquerque area and open space in the Sandia foothills, among other areas.

Journal staff writer Patrick Lohmann contributed to this report.

 

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