BernCo Fire Reminds Residents to Be Prepared for Winter Weather Conditions


Over the past month, Bernalillo County Fire and Rescue has been dispatched to four structure fires and over a dozen motor vehicle crashes in the East Mountains.

Fire crews in the East Mountains have seen a variety of scenarios that played a part in these types of incidents, a large majority were attributed to winter weather conditions. Three of the four structure fires were caused by improper use of fireplaces or not completing the necessary maintenance that is required to use a fireplace.

The motor vehicle crashes that East Mountain crews have responded to involved drivers that were not prepared to be driving in winter weather conditions, or driving without due regard for these types of conditions. In each of these cases a majority of these incidents could have been avoided.

“Bernalillo County and Bernalillo County Fire & Rescue would like to take this time to remind residents to be sure and practice some or all of these safety measures when driving or using a fireplace,” say County Commission Chair Charlene Pyskoty. “It is the responsibility of all citizens to remain vigilant in our home and driving practices to preserve our amazing community. Stay safe Bernalillo County!”

The Bernalillo County East Mountain Community is one of the most beautiful places to live in New Mexico. Residents enjoy the peace and tranquility when living in this wilderness environment. Fireplaces, wood and pellet burning stoves, 4x4 and AWD vehicles are a necessity when living in this community. Below are some basic fireplace care tips to help residents maintain their fireplace correctly and some basic driving tips to know when driving in winter weather conditions.

Fireplace safety check

  1. Check chimney structure for cracks, loose bricks, missing mortar, or deteriorating stucco. Residents should also check the chimney liner for signs of deterioration.
  2. Complete chimney sweeps to clean out all the old ash and creosote buildup. Creosote is a chemical mass of carbon formed when wood, tar or fossil fuels are burned. Creosote can linger in chimneys and it can’t be seen from the outside.
  3. Cap the chimney: use a wire-mesh cap to cover the top of the chimney to keep wildlife, rain, and other debris from entering.
  4. Check the damper: the damper is a movable plate that sits above the fireplace before the flue. Make sure the fireplace damper is working properly. There should be no debris preventing it from opening and closing.
  5. Trim tree limbs: Make sure there are no overhanging tree limbs encroaching on the chimney. Limbs can present a fire hazard and also restrict proper draft airflow in the fireplace.
  6. Clean out ashes: simply sweep or vacuum the cold ashes and dispose of them in a proper non-flammable container. Be aware that coals can remain hot for up to three days, which can become a fire hazard if they come in contact with flammable materials.
  7. Fireplace guard: to prevent hot embers from getting out, use a metal-mesh screen or glass fireplace door. Don’t burn wood in the fireplace without a guard.
  8. Check alarms: before starting a fire, make sure all smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are working.
  9. Choose the right wood: wood should be split to appropriate size for the fireplace and stored in a high and dry place for at least six months before burning. Green wood is not recommended for wood burning fireplace since it can produce more creosote. Don’t store large amounts of wood inside the home or right next to the structure outside.
  10. Keep the fire small: small fires generate less smoke and create less creosote buildup. When building a fire, put the logs toward the rear of the wood-burning fireplace and be sure to use kindling, not flammable liquids to start the fire.

Winter driving tips

· Prepare vehicles for winter weather.

· Test the battery.

· Make sure the heating system is in good working order.

· Have winter tires or all-season tires, have tire chains and know how to put them on

· Check wiper blades and replace if needed.

· If possible, keep gas tank at least half full allowing driver to get to their destination and avoid gas line freeze.

Before driving

· Clean the vehicle’s external camera lenses (if vehicle has them).

· Remove snow, dirt, or ice from windows before driving.

· Avoid driving in really bad weather conditions.

· Pack and dress for the elements in the event drivers and passengers get stranded.

· Share travel plans with someone.

How to avoid a crash

· Abide all driving laws and requirements.

· Never drive under the influence of medication, recreational drugs, or alcohol.

· Avoid using cruise control in winter conditions.

· Steer in the direction of a skid, so when wheels regain traction, the driver doesn’t over correct to stay in their lane.

· Accelerate and decelerate slowly.

· Increase following distance to eight to 10 seconds, if possible stop when going uphill.

· Know the vehicle’s capabilities.

· Use a 4x4 or AWD vehicle when driving in wintery weather conditions.





Bernalillo County Fire & Rescue was established on Sept. 15, 1958, and has grown from a single station department to a fully-paid, 12-district organization that staffs five to six paid personnel per station, twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. The stations are covered by firefighters who are all trained to provide medical care and fire suppression. There are three shifts; each consisting of 48-hours on and 96-hours off. There are a total of 254 sworn positions. The positions range from firefighter up to fire chief in rank. BCFD also has nine civilian administrative positions. There are three distinct coverage zones referred to as “regions” within the jurisdiction of BCFD. The fire department is organized into three battalions covering the three regions of the county; north, south and east. Each battalion consists of four fire stations located throughout the jurisdiction to provide emergency services.

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