Wet winter could bring dangerous fire season

For the first time in years, Nevada had a really wet winter.

But the experts from the National Weather Service to the BLM and state Forestry Division all say what that may well mean is a really dangerous fire season this summer.

Brad Crowell of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources told Gov. Brian Sandoval on Tuesday record precipitation is expected to delay the traditional start of the fire season but “current forecasts” show a drying trend in July and August.

Sandoval said it’s ironic during recent drought years, fire officials were warning about the dangers of a major fire season and now, when the mountains are all wet, they’re saying it could end up being even worse.

“It’s going to be a very great grass fire season,” said Chris Smallcomb of the National Weather Service echoing Crowell’s opening remarks at the governor’s fire season briefing. “There is a potential for very large fires in the Eastern Sierra.”

He said part of the issue is “all that carry-over grass from last year is still there.”

Smallcomb said the big concern will be wind driven fires along the Sierra Front beginning in July.

Casey KC, interim state forester, also predicted a delayed fire season because of the “abundant snowpack.” Across much of the Sierra, the snowpack is at record levels that haven’t even been approached since 1983.

But, she said, heavy loading is creating a heavy amount of “fine fuels” grasses. When those grasses dry in July and August, they’ll create an above normal fire potential.

But all those attending the briefing told the governor they’re preparing for the coming summer. In the Tahoe Basin, for example, U.S. Forest Service spokesman Kit Bailey said they have already had 1,200 acres of prescribed burns this year while hazardous fuels were thinned, pilled or treated mechanically on nearly 2,000 acres.

Among the treatment methods the state forestry division is using is grazing sheep on cheat grass. They’ve done that for several years in the foothills along the west side of Carson City.

A new and still developing tool, according to Graham Kent of UNR, is the fire camera system they’ve been installing on the mountains surrounding the Tahoe Basin and along the Sierra Front. Those live cameras help firefighters spot fires much earlier so they can attack the blazes before they grow out of control. He said more cameras are on the way.

The information was presented Tuesday in the state’s annual Wildland Fire Briefing for the governor.


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