As at least 20 wildfires consumed thousands of acres this weekend, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced that she would ask local governments to temporarily ban the sale of fireworks around the state.
State government can ban the use of fireworks — and it has — but under the law, banning sales is something that has to happen at a local level.
“I don’t have the power to prevent those sales,” Lujan Grisham emphasized at a news briefing on Saturday afternoon.
This is not a new consideration in New Mexico, and previous state officials — regardless of political affiliation — grappled with their inability to restrict fireworks sales statewide as New Mexico’s fire conditions grew more dangerous in recent years.
The governor issued an executive order Monday urging municipalities and counties to ban the sale of fireworks.
“While many of us like to celebrate with fireworks, no momentary display is worth causing a wildfire that could threaten the lives and property of your neighbors,” Lujan Grisham said.
If 2020 and 2021 in Albuquerque were any indication, celebrating with fireworks during the pandemic can often extend well beyond the Fourth of July holiday.
Local governments are facing great need as high winds on Friday accelerated wildfire spread in 16 of the state’s 33 counties by Saturday. “I do not want to minimize how dangerous the situation is, and how dramatic it is,” Lujan Grisham said. “Even with the weather and all of the brave men and women who are on the front lines of all of these fires, it’s going to be a tough summer.”
That’s why the state has implemented bans and is looking for more from local governments, she explained. And there are ways to compensate businesses that would lose their annual income if the sale of fireworks were banned, the governor added.
What we learned in the pandemic is that the states’ and local governments have some interesting flexibility to make businesses whole.
– Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham
Fire officials also said that they don’t yet know what or who ignited the fires and they were somewhat behind in their investigations because there were so many at once.
But the exceptionally dry environment and high winds in New Mexico are why they spread so quickly beyond the state’s capacity to fight them alone.
Though drought conditions in the state can vary within a year, the overall picture shows that the last two decades here have been the driest in 1,200 years, according to climate scientists who just released a study. They call it a “megadrought” and say it intensified rapidly in 2020 and 2021.
That plus higher temperatures in New Mexico — both a result of human-caused climate change — increase the “severity, frequency, and extent of wildfires,” according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
There are severe drought conditions in 93% of the state, the governor’s news release indicated, with conditions escalating into the “extreme” or “exceptional” designations in 70%.
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