The Sandoval County Fire Department has released a burn ban for open flames in unincorporated areas, effective immediately.

The ban is in response to a rash of wildfires, which have occurred throughout Sandoval County in recent weeks, according to Sandoval County Fire Marshal James Maxon.

Maxon said the ban is due to the gusty weather that New Mexico has seen this year.

"We have extremely dry conditions right now, and we also have very high winds causing fires to spread rapidly," Maxon said.

According to the fire department, there have been more than 75 wildfires in Sandoval County alone in 2011. Some of the fires have been more severe than others, including a 21-acre fire in Jemez, a five-acre fire on Santa Ana Pueblo, and another large-scale fire near Cochiti Lake.

Though strong gales and the aridity of the Southwest only add fuel to the flame, Maxon said that the fires are usually started by people burning vegetation on their property. The ban prohibits any such activity in Sandoval County, and includes any open flame in an outdoor setting.

Maxon said that the restrictions have been put in place two months earlier than usual, mostly due to the extreme winds.

There have been a reported 1,000 acres that have burned in the county this year, and the fire department says it has responded to about two fire reports per day over the last month.

Those with overgrown yards will have to find alternative ways to deplete weed growth, but will be notified when it is once again permissible to burn.

"We'll let the public know with a press release when it's safe to burn again, usually late summer," Maxon said. "As soon as we get some moisture in place, we'll reevaluate the situation and, hopefully, get the restriction lifted."

Burners beware: A release from the fire department states that a violation of the open burning ban is a misdemeanor and carries penalties of up to 90 days in jail and/or a $300.00 fine, which is enforceable by the Sandoval County Fire Marshal, the Sandoval County Sheriff's Department, or New Mexico State Police.