Busy fire season predicted

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RENO " Nevada dodged a fire assault last year, but after three years of drought, officials are bracing for what they say could be a severe summer of smoke and flames.

"We probably won't be that lucky again," Mike Dondero, state fire management officer, said Monday. "I would say it's going to be more active than last year."

Dondero and other federal and local fire experts Monday briefed Gov. Jim Gibbons on the coming fire season and the status of available resources to fight expected blazes.

Every summer brings different fire threats. Dry winters leave forests and shrubs tinder dry by summer, making them more vulnerable to fire.

But a wet spring such as experienced this year in some parts of Nevada spurs the growth of cheat grass, which quickly dries out and provides a fuel carpet for flames.

Fire experts say both conditions exist in Nevada this year.

While eastern Nevada finished the season with above-average snowfall, the situation was far different in the west. Another lackluster snowpack should increase the chances of fires at Lake Tahoe, the Carson Range and other mountainous terrain in the Sierra Nevada, officials said.

Rex McKnight, fire management officer for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, said cheat grass could be abundant.

"If that grass does come up the way it's looking, we could have more than originally anticipated," McKnight said. "That's what it's looking like now. It's more than last year."

In 2008, 452 fires in Nevada burned about 72,000 acres. Dondero attributed the low numbers to a lack of lightning, a common cause of wildland fires.

"The lightning just didn't line up," he said.

That wasn't the case a decade ago, when a series of lightning storms marched across the state in early August, igniting fires that burned a record 1.8 million acres.

The law of averages makes it likely Nevada will experience more lightning this summer than it did last year, Dondero said.

"Our biggest challenge is when we get multiple starts," he said. "Then we can run out of resources real quickly."


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