Efforts to crack down on fires on Northern Nevada public lands started slowly Monday as workers spent the day "tapering into the new regulations," according to one forest service worker.
Restrictions on the use of fire took effect at noon, but it didn't start with ticketing, said Earl Griffith, Forest Service enforcement officer.
His colleagues spent the day hammering in signs and getting out the word: Fires on public land are illegal for the rest of the season, and defiant campers will be punished with a $250 ticket.
Technically, any person who knowingly lights an illegal fire can be liable by imprisonment and a fine of up to $10,000.
Primarily, workers from the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service and Nevada Division of Forestry want to reduce the number of campfires that can spark the mega-fires that have plagued the state in the last two years, Griffith said .
Also off limits is smoking, welding or using explosives without a permit. The restrictions, imposed for the second summer in a row, apply to all BLM lands and all Carson Ranger District land below 7,000 feet elevation, except for developed recreation sites.
Although the restrictions are a cooperative effort among the three agencies that manage the bulk of public land in the area, each is responsible for its own enforcement. Griffith said the Forest Service will not hesitate to hand out tickets.
"Our objective is keeping people in compliance," he said. "The magistrates are very strict with these offenses."
In the Carson Ranger District of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, which includes areas in California and Northern Nevada, this year's low moisture has been a contributor in several fires. Although most have been lightning related, officials aren't taking any chances.
"The campfires are the main issue for us," Griffith said. "Most of the people we have trouble with come from Reno and the central valley of California."
Although 90 percent contained, the 7,500 acre Cherry fire raging north of Ely is a poignant example of the fire danger that comes with the dry weather.
Ranchers at the Paris Ranch near Cherry Creek witnessed the lightning strike believed to have started the fire on July 9. Although the ranch was threatened, the first firefighting teams helped push the fire away from the structures and animals, said BLM information officer Dave Stout.
Five helicopters, one skycrane (a twin-prop helicopter), seven Forest Service Hot Shot crews and two BLM crews are still working the fire. Control lines are in place to prevent flairups. Approximately 500 firefighters were deployed at the fire's peak.
No injuries or structural damage were sustained.
At a Wild Fire Hazard Awareness class put on Monday for members of the media, Steve Frady, law enforcement specialist for the Nevada Division of Forestry, explained potential dangerous conditions:
- On a 0- to 5-degree slope fire moves erratically and unpredictably. On a 6- to 35-degree slope fire burns twice as fast and lower to the ground. On a 36- to 55-degree slope fire burns four times as fast, flat to the ground.
- Fire can loosen rocks, causing boulders to roll downhill toward firefighters. Ground is unstable after a fire.
- Snags from trees can break loose when burned, falling from above. Charred trees are removed from burn areas.
- Thunderstorms push cold air down "acting like a pitcher of water being poured on a concrete floor," he said. This phenomena can send flames in all directions, endangering firefighter's lives.
- Radiant heat has a drying effect. As fire seeks fuel, vegetation dries out, becoming more flammable.
- Above the fire on a hillside is the most dangerous place. Fire moves uphill. "Houses don't burn down," Frady said, illustrating his point, "they burn up."
- A pound of cheat grass has the same potential energy as a gallon of gasoline.
- Thick smoke between power lines can cause the power to arc, creating an electrocution hazard for nearby people and animals.
- At 1.5 million volts and 50,000 degrees, the average lightning bolt can easily spark a wild fire. Stay away from metal fences, poles, trees and power lines during an electrical storm.