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Wildfires affect public health in several ways. Most directly, they threaten people and firefighters who are directly exposed to excessive heat and acute smoke inhalation. More broadly, they threaten public health by degrading air quality via wildfire smoke.

This indicator describes the annual number of acres burned and the number of wildfires >100 acres in each county from 1992-2013. These data are intended to provide a better understanding of the spatial and temporal patterns of wildfires in New Mexico.

Wildfires are a fundamental part of New Mexico's landscape. An average of 285,000 acres burned each year between 1992 and 2013, with a low of 69,000 acres burned in 2001 and a high of 1,143,000 acres burned in 2011 (almost 1.5% of the state's land area). The severity of wildfire seasons depends on precipitation, temperature, fuel availability, and natural or human-related ignition. Each of these factors varies from year to year and place to place. Much of the yearly variation in fire season severity is climate related. For example, a snowy winter followed by a wet, cool spring tends to favor a lower severity fire season, while a dry winter followed by a warm, dry spring tends to favor a higher severity fire season.

The primary health threat from wildfire smoke occurs when fine particulates are inhaled or come into contact with the eyes. Individuals with preexisting conditions such as asthma, COPD, emphysema, or heart disease are particularly vulnerable to wildfire smoke, though healthy individuals also can be harmed by prolonged smoke inhalation. Symptoms of smoke exposure may include breathing discomfort and irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat. More severe symptoms may include chest tightness, wheezing, shortness of breath, and coughing.

Those most vulnerable to smoke-related impacts include older adults, young children, and people with pre-existing respiratory health conditions. However, even healthy individuals can be harmed by and should take measures to avoid prolonged smoke exposure.

If you live in a wildfire prone area and have a private well, follow these tips to help protect your well and respond should a wildfire occur:
  • Maintain your private well.
  • Know your private well and take pictures of the following to reference later if there is damage:
    • Storage or pressure tanks, Pump, Treatment system (including any filters), Well documents, Electrical components
  • Store or pressure tanks, Pump, Treatment system (including any filters), Well documents, Electrical components
  • Use a well house made of fire-resistant materials.
  • Use fire-resistant electrical coverings.
  • Keep the surface seal in good condition.

Staying indoors and keeping the indoor air clean is the easiest way to protect yourself when it is smoky outside.
  • Reduce physical activity.
  • Stay indoors with all windows and doors closed.
  • Do not smoke or use vapor cigarettes indoors.
  • Avoid using swamp coolers if possible. Smoke passes through most swamp cooler filters.
  • If using an air conditioner, keep the fresh-air-intake closed and the filter clean.
  • Do not rely on dust masks or wet handerchiefs. They do not effectively filter fine particles from the air. If you must go outside for extended periods, use a specialized mask called a "particulate respirator" to keep you safe.