Tumbleweeds collected along a property on Berrendo Road. (Jill McLaughlin Photo)
This weekend Roswell was subjected to yet another form of alien invasion to go along with the annual spring winds. Gusts were reported in excess of 60 mph, resulting in downed tree limbs and trees. The winds also heralded the beginning of this year’s annual migration of the alien invasive species, the tumbleweed, or the Russian thistle. This year promises to be a bumper crop year for the tumbleweed. The previous years of drought killed most native grasses and native plant species, providing fallow ground for the tumbleweed. The 2013 flood provided the moisture.
City of Roswell Special Services Administrator Michael Mathews said the most recent event is seasonal, something Roswell faces every year. At 8 a.m., Monday, the Street Department was already out cleaning up branches and any fallen trees from the most recent windstorm.
This leaves no time for the humble tumbleweed. The citizen is responsible for hauling the dried vegetation and weeds to the dump, although the city has a heart for those residents with special needs. Speaking about one elderly person, Mathews said: “They should contact Codes Enforcement (575-637-6280) and we will look into the issue on a case-by-case basis.”
Some areas of town have been particularly hard hit; anywhere on the outskirts of town was susceptible and especially people to the east.
On Sunday morning, residents along Bent Tree Road woke up to find their front doors blocked and their yards piled 5, 6, and 10-feet deep in the weeds. Some people in the row of quadraplexes are not in a position to dig themselves out from under. One 70-year-old resident was recently released from the hospital. A few people are retired. Bent Tree Road has been buried several times this year. One location had tumbleweeds stacked up more than 20-feet deep from a previous wind.
Mathews urges people to avoid disposing of the problem elsewhere. “We ask you not to take them out and just dump them in the street where they will end up in someone else’s yard. If you know of anyone who needs help, see if there is something you can do. We are asking the public to help their neighbors.”
Burning is strictly forbidden. “This is a fire hazard for everyone. You need to get a permit from the Fire Department to have a burn in the city. They will have to come and inspect your property before they are willing to give a permit,” Mathews explained. There are no charges for getting a permit, but it could take time. Contact 575-624-6800 for more information.
Another worrisome feature of the alien invasion lies behind the Bent-Tree properties. What many use as their backyards are, in fact, easements with ground-level transformers. On Sunday, they too became buried with densely packed tumbleweeds. Xcel’s Media Liaison for New Mexico Wes Reeves said the risk of a spark from a transformer was low and if there were a concern, it should be reported to the city government.
Tumbleweeds are highly flammable. They are saturated with volatile oils. When they roll up next to houses and wooden fencing, they pose a serious fire risk. A spark could start a flash fire. The adjacent field has accumulated its share of tumbleweeds. The field is privately owned and there is no alley to allow Fire Department access in case of fire.
The city was not the only place affected by Sunday’s winds. Chaves County also has seen the rigors of the high winds. Roofs were torn from buildings, and areas along Pine Lodge Road sport barbed wire fences completely clothed in tumbleweeds. Chaves County Fire Services Administrator Tammy West said the policies in the county were different than those in Roswell.
People in the county are allowed to do a controlled burn without a getting a permit. However, they are expected to call dispatch (575-624-7590) and notify them of a controlled burn.
“If people do a controlled burn, they need to do it responsibly. Don’t burn on a windy day. Needle grass burns easily and sparks can ignite dry needle grass with just the lightest breeze. They need to clear the area of all vegetation and make sure they have access to water,” said West.