Alarming fire forecast
RENO — Last summer, the forests were tinderbox dry, but lightning strikes were rare. Many of the wildfires in the West were caused by people.
This year, expect more lightning — the most common cause of wildfires — from a weak La Ni-a system. It will allow more unsettled weather to come up from the south that could produce thunderstorms, said Rhett Milne, fire weather program manager at the National Weather Service.
Fire danger was escalated as the snows of April melted quickly in temperatures 3.5 degrees above normal, Milne said.
The late burst of moisture has spurred the growth of grass, too. Fire officials fear the grass may act as fuel for wildfires.
“All that snowpack we built up, now it’s just gone — much of it went into rivers,” Milne said. “We are expecting that once things dry out, we are going to have large fires again. Those grasses will just carry fire into heavier fuels.”
Tuesday’s fire along Highway 50 near Spooner Summit between Carson City and Lake Tahoe burned almost 1,200 acres of sagebrush, cheatgrass and pines. The cause of the blaze has not been determined, although officials believe it was caused by a person, not lightning.
Don’t expect any relief this summer. Weather predictions through August indicate drought conditions and above-average temperatures, prime factors for lightning.
In the last 30 days, NWS software recorded more than 20,000 strikes in the region.
“We’ve already seen a lot more lightning strikes than we did last year,” Milne said. “We just haven’t had any fires they can be attributed to because of the late ‘green out’ we had.”
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