Does cycle pattern hold? Sandoval looks at Nevada wildfires

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Gov. Brian Sandoval sees a cyclical pattern in Nevada since a whopping 1.9 million acres of wildland burned statewide in 1999: After every three relatively low-damage summers, it seems that statewide wildfire activity explodes.

The question the governor put Tuesday to representatives from more than a dozen state, federal and local agencies was: Is Nevada heading into a busy fire year in 2016?

“Unfortunately, from everything we hear from this table today ... we will be impacted,” Joe Freeland, Nevada state forester and fire warden told the governor during an annual wildfire outlook briefing.

Smoke from fires in California could pose a problem, Freeland said. Fire crews might be busy in mountains and grassy rangelands in Nevada. They also could be sent to neighboring states to help quell fires in drought and disease-ravaged forests.

Coming off a fairly wet winter, but not a drought-buster, the Sierra Nevada and the vast expanses of the Great Basin are expected to see fire activity near or above long-term averages, said Chris Smallcomb, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Reno.

A map showed the entire northwest corner of Nevada, from about Tonopah to Eureka to Elko, at above-normal wildfire risk.

Rangeland grasses are flourishing after spring rains, and they will dry in the summer, Freeland said. That will pose a fire threat for July and August similar to the most active years since 1999, he said.

Fewer than 43,000 burned acres last year, down from 59,000 acres in 2014 and 163,000 acres in 2013, according to data presented Tuesday.

The last big wildfire year was 2012, when 613,126 acres of wildland burned. That’s more than 950 square miles, but it’s still a fraction of the total of nearly 3,000 square miles that burned in 1999.


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