Although this year’s wildfire season has been quiet in Churchill County compared to the same time in 2017, the Bureau of Land Management said the right conditions could lead to more fires during the next two months.
Jonathon Palma, Carson City district’s acting fire management officer, told Churchill County commissioners on Wednesday that increased fuel and hot weather could be a potent combination. During the winter, he said precipitation in the Carson City District and most of Nevada was below average, but rain fell during the March-April time frame.
“This year the grass didn’t grow as much, but we have carry over from last year,” he said.
According to the BLM, “vegetation in western Nevada and eastern California is significantly more than seen in previous years partly because of the wet spring and the abundance of last year’s grass crop. Warmer than average temperatures have increased the rate of vegetation dry-out. A large crop of grass and brush is evident at lower elevations, and trees and other forest vegetation at higher elevations is quickly drying out.”
Palma said the fire season has been quiet in the eastern part of the district. In 2017, though, July was a busy month near Cold Springs. The Draw Fire, which was caused by lightning Friday night, burned more than 27,000 acres of cheat grass, sage and rabbit brush and pinion juniper trees. The fire also closed U.S. Highway 50 several times because of flames crossing the two-lane highway and threatening the Cold Springs Restaurant, which is 60 miles east of Fallon. Firefighters also faced temperatures hovering near 100 degrees as well as low humidity in the single digits.
The Bravo 17 fire began a week later on Navy land and eventually burned more than 22,000 acres. The fire started on a bombing range and spread east onto BLM land. The Tungsten Fire 60 miles northeast of Fallon consumed more than 5,000 acres of brush, hardwood slash and grass in August. Lightning caused that fire according to BLM dispatches.
On Sept. 1, 2017, 18 active wildfires burned in Nevada including the Tohakum 2 Fire northeast of Pyramid Lake that closed State Route 447, the main access to the Burning Man festival on the Black Rock Desert. A total of 132,106 acres had been consumed by the 18 fires.
Palma said forecasters predict temperatures will be hotter than average but precipitation will be in the normal range.
“We have a large-fire potential,” Palma said.
Based on the previous four years, areas that could face the potential of wildfires in Churchill County include the Clan Alpine Range northeast of Fallon and along State Highway 722 to Carroll Summit. Palma said dry lightning similar to last year could be a factor in igniting cheat grass or single-leaf pinyon pine and juniper trees.
Fire restrictions are also in effect until further notice.