The wildfires that occurred in Churchill County this year were the most intense compared to previous years, with most elements contributing to the record wet winter, lightning, and the drought according to the Bureau of Land Management.
“2016 was crazy, but this year was crazier,” said Fire Management Officer Dennis Strange. “This is more than what we’ve seen in the last five years, and we’re close to our 10 year average.”
Representatives of the BLM presented an updated 2018 plan to the Churchill County Commissioners Wednesday, including a presentation on fire restoration efforts, consisting of seeding high risk areas and informing the public about fire safety, as one of the fires were human-caused.
“We need to get that reduced by educating the public and visiting schools,” Strange said.
More of those included repairing damages from wildfire suppression actions, such as safety zones, fences, roads, and water sources and infrastructure.
With that, the costs for damaged acres wouldn’t be as outstanding; the first fire of the year was the Draw Fire near Cold Springs July 7, burning 27,506 acres and costing the BLM $4.2 million. The human-caused Bravo Fire then started two days after, burning over 22,000 acres and costing $365,000.
A month later, the Tungsten Fire was inflamed by lighting, burning 16,455 acres, also costing $4.1 million.
First quarter plan fund requests were filed for each fire through BLM’s emergency stabilization and rehabilitation, but the funding for the Tungsten fire was not approved in time, but later approved in November.
Because of the number of fires that burned throughout the West, the funding was spread out among states.
“As a system, we were stressed,” Strange said. “This also was happening during the Montana and northwest fires.”
But BLM has awarded $1.1 million for the Draw Fire and another $670,000 for Bravo 17 for aerial seeding and contracting for fencing, road repair and cultural surveying to help prevent fires, as other challenges included the record winter moisture increase, early hot temperatures, and winds contributing to fuels.
Resource concerns for each fire include livestock and wildlife forage, winter lambing grounds, sage grouse and cheatgrass, and cultural sites.
The wet winter produced thick cheatgrass throughout the region and burns easily in the summertime.
Stacy Sylvester of BLM’s Grazing Program said they plan to plant 109 thousand pounds of seed between January and March in areas at high-risk or have had the largest impact. In November, the BLM reported they would be drill seeding 8,088 acres, and aerial seeding over another 6,364 acres.
“It’s a good opportunity to minimize fires and it’s less impact to the community,” Strange said.
Aside from seeding, other solutions discussed were to create more livestock grazing closures, road and culvert repairs, or natural handmade barriers.