Fire teams ready for early fire season potential

Western Nevada fire officials are preparing for what is expected to be a busy fire season this year, as the area faces a strong potential for lightning to ignite abundant, dry grasses and vegetation.

The hot start to summer last week helped to dry out cheat grass and vegetation in the mountains and wilderness areas, providing fuel that will be prime for fires in about two weeks, officials said Friday.

Dry grasses and weather conditions last year contributed to the July 4 Gondola fire, Walker fire and a 9,866-acre complex of fires near Topaz Lake.

Leonard Wehking, fire management officer for the Carson City field office of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, said two weeks ago, fire managers were predicting a late start to the season, but after seeing record-breaking temperatures last week predictions have changed.

"Last year we didn't have a lot of lightning and therefore not a lot of ignition, but we anticipate more fire starts this year," Wehking said. "It's drying out real, real fast."

Regional weather forecasters are predicting an active thunderstorm season, Wehking said. When not accompanied by rain, lightning can ignite more fires than any other source in the area, he said.

While sufficient state, federal and local fire crews will be on hand, the area will likely not have access to heavy air tankers this year to deliver large amounts of retardant.

Several C130s and PB4Ys tankers were grounded following equipment failures and crashes last year.

In response, the Carson City field office has contracted with two small-engine air tankers, which won't carry as much retardant but are more mobile and can be moved closer to fires. The smaller crafts will be based at Stead and Minden, but can be moved around the area and shared, Wehking said.

The Nevada Department of Forestry will have several crews and firefighting equipment in place by June 9, said Ronan Thornhill, fire management officer for the forestry department.

The department will have two helicopters with teams based in Minden on call seven days a week. The helicopters will be manned with a team of firefighters who can land at the fire site, Thornhill said.

State firefighting crews will also be stationed at the Stewart and Silver Springs camps.

The Nevada National Guard's ability to provide support during the fire season won't be hampered by troop activations that took place during the war with Iraq, said spokeswoman April Conway.

The Army National Guard provides support with a CH-47 Chinook helicopter that carries 2,000 gallons of water at a time to fire sites using buckets. The air guard provides air support, scouting the area for bridges, roads and conditions, Conway said.

With 3,000 state troops, 180 are have been deployed to Southwest Asia, 50 mobilized in the U.S. and several called up for active duty who remain in Nevada.

"We have most of the same resources we have every summer," Conway said.

Officials are asking people to use caution with fires in wilderness areas by not smoking outside for instance, Thornhill said.


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