NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Otero County residents are calling out the U.S Forest Service, saying the department’s risky behavior could start the next wildfire. The Lincoln National Forest is currently under a Stage 2 Fire Restriction which means welding is not allowed.

Last Thursday forest officials were caught doing just that and residents in Wills Canyon are afraid of what could happen if a spark got out of hand. “These fires are just out of control devastating communities and homes and people’s lives… and also taking people’s lives. Is it really worth the risk,” Landowner Kelly Goss said.

Story continues below

A spokesperson for the Lincoln National Forest says although there are current fire restrictions in place, there are exemptions. In this case, the Forest Service says there is an immediate action to protect an endangered species of jumping mouse, by building a fence.

The Forest Service says there are strict protocols in place ensuring safety, which includes having a fire watch person, water on-site, and only operating certain equipment during non-red flag hours of the day, but even with the protocols, the landowners say welding is still a risk whenever winds are present.

“I thought they can’t be doing this and the winds were blowing and they’ve been welding steady for several weeks. That wind has been ripping down here like it has everywhere and I really couldn’t believe that they were doing this on those windy days,” Landowner Spike Goss said.

Both the fire department and the sheriff’s office have been regularly checking in on the fencing project to ensure protocols are being followed. The welding and fence work is expected to be finished in the next few days.