- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 31, 2020

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - New Mexico has a new tool that could help crews get an early jump on any wildfires that might break out.

The State Forestry Division will be getting real-time alerts via a satellite tracking system designed by the Santa Fe-based startup Descartes Labs. The program can detect temperature increases from new fires using data that’s updated every few minutes. Text messages will then be sent to State Forestry with the location and a detailed map.

Full implementation of the satellite program is expected to help this season as the agency is faced with unusual circumstances because of the public health emergency spurred by the new coronavirus. State officials said specific guidelines are in place requiring health screenings at State Forestry facilities during regular work hours and while on fire assignments.

“We are still prepared with hundreds of firefighters at the ready across New Mexico,” State Forester Laura McCarthy said in a statement. “Together with our local, state, federal and tribal partners, we have developed wildfire response plans and have adjusted training practices to minimize physical contact during all work-related activities.”

Since the start of the year, the agency said more than 60 wildfires have threatened homes, burned state lands, and put New Mexico’s watersheds at risk. Nearly three-quarters of the fires were caused by people.

The State Forestry Division is urging property owners and others to be prepared. Recommendations include creating defensible space around homes, building campfires only in designated pits and grills and abiding by fireworks restrictions.

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