Tucumcari Fire Chief Mike Cherry said Saturday’s fire near the cemetery, with smoke thick enough to briefly block out the sun, was a prescribed fire to cut down on tumbleweeds and future fire hazards.
Another fire burned through Quay County on Saturday, but this one was started on purpose.
Tucumcari Fire Chief Mike Cherry said a prescribed burn was ignited by the fire department in the field just east of Tucumcari Memorial Cemetery around 10 a.m.
Smoke was still billowing around 2 p.m.
“I could see the smoke all the way from Logan,” said Mike Sasser, who was traveling to town from his home in Pueblo, Colo. “I just thought it was another prairie fire.”
As common as prairie fires are in the Southwest, controlled burning is equally as common, Cherry said, although it’s not as common as it used to be.
The reason behind lighting a patch of grassland with a torch and manipulating a fire to cover the desired area is twofold, Cherry said.
“We are getting rid of a hazard and at the same time providing training for new personnel. This field would be full of tumbleweeds by March,” Cherry said, adding not only do tumbleweeds pose further fire hazards but they clog up streets, vehicles and businesses.
“They would be all over Doc (J.P.) Corey’s,” Cherry said of the nearby veterinarian’s location.
No, Cherry said, landowners cannot request the fire department come burn their yards, too, to get rid of dried grass, tumbleweeds and debris.
“We can’t accept the liability for that,” Cherry said. “This was city property and they asked us to do it.”
Cherry said the public is not alerted to controlled burning sessions in advance as the burns are hard to put together. Sometimes they are planned but have to be canceled, he said, because the weather will be too windy or otherwise unfavorable.
Saturday’s prescribed burning was started downwind. It included a buffer so flames did not get out of control and was heavily monitored by personnel from the Tucumcari Fire Department as well as those from the county’s district one, Cherry said.