Guinn asks Nevada be declared fire disaster area

Nevada's fire situation is "grim" enough that federal officials should declare the state an emergency disaster area, Gov. Kenny Guinn said.

That declaration would make landowners and the state eligible for federal assistance, including emergency loans, and would qualify the state for programs to help restore damaged lands.

According to the Western Great Basin Coordinating Center in Reno, there have been 917 fires in Nevada this fire season, consuming 599,274 acres of forest, sage and grassland. The center coordinates firefighting efforts with the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Nevada Division of Forestry and the National Parks Service

About 200 of the fires - mostly smaller in size - were started by people. The center reports the vast majority of the blazes have been lightning caused. A total of 716 lightning fires have burned through 564,520 acres of land.

Guinn quoted weather officials as saying those patterns are not going to change in the near future.

"Much of this damage is occurring in counties that are also experiencing extreme drought conditions," he said in a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman. "The outlook for increased wildfires is grim given the 28-day predicted weather pattern of dryness, thunderstorm activity and gusty winds."

Nevada Division of Forestry spokesman Steve Frady said the fire season shows no signs of being over.

"If it doesn't get cooler and wetter, the season could extend into October," he said. "We'd have to have some substantial precipitation and that just isn't in the near future as far as I can tell."

There are still a half-dozen large fires burning in the eastern part of the state. The West Basin fire in northeast Elko County was reported 75 percent contained, and Saturday's Willow Fire north of Ely was 70 percent contained but still covered more than 1,000 acres.

Firefighters were still working on the Parsnip fire in Lincoln County, the Willow, Cherry and Philips Ranch fires in White Pine and the Mammoth and Little Water fires in northeast Nye County.

All those blazes are larger than 300 acres.

This year's damage is still nowhere near that caused by wildfires last year when 1,152 blazes spread across 1.87 million acres of Nevada. More than a million of those acres were burned in August 1999 alone.

"Last year we had lightning come through and set a few large fires," said Frady. "This year we've had a lot of small fires, some of which turned large."

The National Weather Service is predicting continued isolated thunderstorms across the northern part of the state through Monday. Temperatures will continue to reach into the low 90s with some gusty winds.

Fire officials say they also expect lightning to continue causing problems in the Winnemucca area this weekend.

Frady said Nevada firefighters and their counterparts around the west are "wearing down" because they've been fighting fires literally for months.

"But our philosophy has been hit it hard and keep it small and we're going to keep doing that."


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