Burn ban prohibits setting off fireworks in county

File photo Under restrictions imposed by the state forestry department, use of fireworks is banned on private or state lands outside city and federal lands.

Sharna Johnson

People may still be able to buy fireworks in the state, but if they use them in the county they can be cited for violating a burn ban imposed by the state forestry department.

The restrictions imposed last week by the forestry department forbid the use of fireworks on any state or private wildlands outside city or federal jurisdictions.

Wildlands are defined as any land with timber, brush, grass, grain or other flammable vegetation, according to the forestry department.

The forestry fire ban includes all 33 New Mexico counties.

That doesn’t leave much room for interpretation, said Steve Doerr, county attorney.

“I read it (as) no fireworks in Curry County… I think the ban is just that, it’s a ban,” Doerr said.

“They’re not prohibiting the sale or possession, (but they are banning the use). That’s anywhere, pretty much anywhere.”

Doerr said in regards to fireworks, the forestry ban is more severe than the one the county was allowed to impose by statute, which only allows the commission to restrict the sale of predetermined fireworks.

Under a county-issued proclamation, it is illegal to sell or use missile-type rockets, helicopters, aerial spinners, stick-type rockets and ground audible devices.

However, it only restricted allowed fireworks to paved areas and barren land or areas with a readily accessible source of water.

State statute does not allow the county any leeway to tighten those restrictions further.

“With the extreme fire danger we’ve got right now it’s just best that people don’t use fireworks in the county,” Doerr said.

Likewise, the state forestry department cannot ban the sale of fireworks, “Only the use of (them) on private and state land,” said spokesman Dan Ware. “Our restrictions have no power within the city limits.”

And restriction of sales “can only come from the legislature,” he said.

Not even the governor has the power to restrict sales, according to a press release from Gov. Susana Martinez.

“There is absolutely no reason to buy, sell or use personal fireworks in New Mexico this summer,” Martinez said in the release. “The potential consequences are simply too severe, and the patriotic thing to do this Fourth of July is to attend a public fireworks display or celebrate the 4th fireworks free.”

What the ban means to county residents is that there are no places where setting off fireworks would be allowed, not even in the driveway of a residence, Ware said.

“The deputies are not going to be out there measuring the grass or the amount of combustible materials,” Doerr said. Instead, if they encounter someone using fireworks, they will issue citations and individuals can argue their cases in court.

Ware said fines can range up to $500, and a citation could mean up to a year in jail.

In addition, he said, “If a wildfire is actually caused by improper use of fire or an open flame, depending on the circumstances, (the responsible party) could be held liable for the cost of suppressing that fire.”

The majority of fires in the state this year have been caused by humans, Ware said, whether it be careless acts or accidents such vehicle parts sparking against pavement on highways.

More than 700,000 acres in the state have burned this year as a result of 987 fires, according to the governor’s office.

Doerr said the forestry restrictions also prohibits campfires, smoking — to inside buildings and in vehicles equipped with ashtrays — and controlled burns.

“On (controlled) fires, the county is more restrictive. There are (stronger) provisions within the county burn ban than are in the forestry (restrictions),” he said, and residents are expected to follow the local fire restrictions.

Burning of refuse in piles or back yard burn barrels, is only allowed when winds are less than 10 mph —