BY JAMES WERNICKE
Parks & Recreation Board
A year ago, Los Alamos trails were closed as part of Stage 3 fire restrictions due to unusually hot and dry conditions and the Cerro Pelado Fire. Many residents, including myself, felt that the blanket closure was unreasonably restrictive. On February 28, 2023, a new ordinance codified the fire restrictions that may be imposed to limit wildfires. One point of that discussion was that Los Alamos Fire Department would no longer close trails as a matter of course for Stage 3 fire restrictions. This is great news for the citizens that depend on trails for mental and physical health, but also a call for stewardship of our outdoor spaces. Here are a few tips to ensure we continue to enjoy the freedom to use our trails.
Columns of charcoal oversee the Lower Guaje Trail. Photo by James Wernicke
Before heading out, check the County website for fire advisories and regulations. This also goes for prohibited fireworks. After last year’s Hermit’s Peak Fire displaced thousands of people and cost billions, authorities don’t have tolerance for violations. I also like to check fire.airnow.gov for current incidents and air quality.
When camping, consider using a camp stove instead of a campfire. They are easier and safer to cook with, create less air pollution, and leave no trace. If the allure of s’mores and storytelling ambiance is too great, plan ahead to camp in an area with an existing firepit. I recommend uscampgrounds.info and campendium.com to look up campgrounds in the area and call them in advance. When finished, drown the fire in plenty of water until you can stick your hand deep in the ashes and feel no warmth.
Avoid driving or parking on or near dry vegetation because hot catalytic converters can set it on fire. Also, check that your trailer chains aren’t dragging and tires are properly inflated.
85% of wildfires are caused by humans acting irresponsibly. If you see somebody acting that way, politely ask them to stop. If you’re uncomfortable with the situation, call the LAC Fire Marshal at 505-662-8305 or SFNF Dispatch Center at 505-438-5600.
Be prepared for emergencies. Ensure you and your family are familiar with evacuation routes and have an emergency kit with three days’ worth of essentials for every family member, including pets. When going out for a hike, let somebody you trust know where you’ll be and when to expect your return. Carry at least ½ liter of water for every hour you’ll be hiking. Fully charge your cell phone. Bring an N95 mask.
If you end up trapped in a wildfire, consider the advice of these fire researchers. Shelter in a nearby area clear of fuel. If you’re sheltering in water, make sure it’s not too deep to cover your head or too shallow to cover your body. If you can’t reach a clearing, hunker down behind a large rock or bury yourself in a depression in the ground to insulate yourself as much as possible from radiant heat, and breathe close to the ground to minimize smoke inhalation. Most technical outdoor clothing is made of synthetic materials, which can melt to the skin causing severe burns. Consider wearing a non-melting fabric like wool as an underlayer. If you must run through a fire, cover your face and hold your breath to protect your throat from superheated air.
Last, but not least, consider donating to outdoor education and fire prevention organizations.
Nature is truly our most important asset. It is where we find peace, energy, and freedom to be our best selves. Please take care of it.