County enacts burn ban

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

All open fires with few exceptions are now banned in Curry County.

County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to start the burn ban, citing extreme fire danger.

Clovis Fire Chief Ray Westerman told commissioners the risk of fire is high, and, “if we don’t get some relief soon it will be critical.”

Lack of moisture, high growth of brush, increasingly warm temperatures and high winds have converged to create “extreme” conditions, he said.

Westerman said there have been few fire incidents in the county in the last 60 days because of increased awareness by residents and efforts to be fire-safety conscious.

“At least in my mind it’s a no-brainer,” commission Co-chairman Bobby Sandoval said prior to the vote.

The ban will be re-evaluated at the end of 45 days.

Under the resolution, covered propane and charcoal grills are allowed. All other open fires are prohibited.

Enforcement falls to the sheriff’s office. Violators are subject to a $50 fine for a first offense, $100 for a second and $300 for subsequent offenses.

Commissioners also voted to support the sheriff’s office pursuit of a more than $370,000 federal stimulus grant to hire three new deputies for three years.

Under the terms of the grant, at the end of the three years, the county will be required to retain the deputies, Sheriff Matt Murray said.

County Finance Manager Mark Lansford expressed concern budget forecasts were not looking good and the expense of the positions could be a problem down the road.

Murray told commissioners the need for more deputies is growing, especially with expansion at Cannon Air Force Base.

“This is a good way to get started to meet the criteria that’s coming out of the base… we do know that the base is going to grow,” he said, explaining increased traffic, responsibility for policing Cannon’s Chavez housing area and other issues will fall to the sheriff’s office in coming years.

“It takes 21 deputies to cover seven (days), 24 (hours), right now we have 11 deputies.”

Murray said the sheriff’s office had planned to request money during budget planning later in the year for a new deputy at a cost of about $90,000 for salary, a vehicle and equipment.

The grant money, however, would allow the county to hire three deputies for about the same amount of money one would cost.

The deadline to apply is next week, Murray said.

County Manager Lance Pyle also spoke for the grant.

“We don’t have the deputies that we need to provide security for the county… I’d hate for us to miss out on an opportunity to get three,” he said.