Wetwinter in northern Nevada has fire officials worried
publishedby LasVegas Sun
RENO, Nev. (AP) – Fire officials say this year’s wet winter does not mean alight fire season this summer. In fact, they warn it may be just theopposite.
Recent showers have caused grass and brush to sprout, as evidenced by thegreen hillsides in northern Nevada.
Fire restrictions went into effect on Thursday on lower elevations insouthern Nevada. The rules cover Bureau of Land Management areas, the DesertNational Wildlife Refuge Complex and the Lake Mead National RecreationArea.
In northern Nevada, officials said that while continuing rainfall coupledwith a plentiful snowpack should reduce fire danger in the Sierra and othermountain terrain, those same conditions are expected to increase fire danger inthe lower elevations.
“The grass crop is going to be very vigorous. We’re going to have grassin places where you’ve never seen it before,” Mike Dondero, chief of fireand aviation for Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, told the RenoGazette-Journal.
But some of that grass – particularly highly flammable, non-native cheatgrass- already is turning purple as it begins to dry.
In a month or so, at least three separate crops of grass should be dry andready to burn, Dondero said.
“That’s going to all be fuel available for wildfire,” Dondero said.”By mid-June it will be pretty well dried out.”
The dry grass will be a fine, flashy fuel that can cause a fire to spreadrapidly even on a calm, windless day. It could create an especially dangeroussituation near foothill neighborhoods, said Marty Scheuerman, acting Reno firechief.
“You see how green all the hills are? It’s scary,” Scheuermansaid.
Southern Nevada’s restrictions prohibit the use of a fire, campfire or stovefire, other than a stove that uses gas, jellied petroleum or liquid fuel.Smoking is prohibited except in a closed vehicle; and welding, fireworks andexplosives require a permit.
The fire restrictions are not in effect at higher elevations because ofsnowfall levels.
“The significant amount of precipitation this last winter and earlyspring contributed to the extraordinary amount of grasses in the lowerelevations,” Troy Phelps, Bureau of Land Management assistant firemanagement officer told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
“Conditions are such that any new fire ignition can develop into acatastrophic wildland fire.”
What could make the most difference in how active the 2005 fire seasonbecomes will be weather yet to come, said Bob Ashworth, fire program coordinatorfor the Nevada Division of Forestry.
Summer is when thunderstorms sweep the Great Basin, hammering the landscapewith lightning. Often those storms come with drenching rain, moisture that canquickly extinguish lightning-sparked fires.
But those storms also can produce dry lightning, such as that which occurredduring the epic fire season of 1999, when some 1.8 million acres of Nevada rangewere charred by fire.
“The big issue this summer will be how the storms pass through the stateand what kind of lightning activity we get,” Ashworth said. “It’swhether they are dry or wet.”