Fire officials: Forest thinning helped save homes | NevadaAppeal.com

Fire officials: Forest thinning helped save homes

Karl Horeis
BRAD HORN/Nevada Appeal Franklin Pemberton talks about how clearing the brush and trees near this home and its neighborhood saved the structures and allowed firefighters to burn back fires to fight the Waterfall fire.
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Brush thinning work done in the spring helped save homes in Lakeview, Ash Canyon and near C Hill from the Waterfall fire, officials say.

Work done by the Carson City Fire Department and U.S. Forest Service may have slowed the 8,723-acre blaze to more manageable speeds.

“You can see where our fuels work project started,” said fire information officer Franklin Pemberton on the burned slope above Lakeview on Thursday.

He pointed to an area where thinned brush burned only slightly, leaving green manzanita and Jeffrey pines. Then he pointed to the north.

“That area over there had not been thinned,” he said. “It’s a moonscape.”

Below him on the hill was a line of homes – none of which burned despite the fast-moving blaze surrounding them last week.

“This fuels break – combined with the work homeowners had done – allowed firefighters to save these homes,” Pemberton said.

Forest Service crews thinned sage and bitter brush on 25 acres of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, which abuts private land. Work done behind Wagon Wheel Road was completed in March.

On July 15, the second day of the blaze, firefighters lit backfires in the area as the raging Waterfall fire approached homes.

“If this defensible space hadn’t been here, they wouldn’t have had that tactical ability,” Pemberton said.

Homeowner Tom Been looked up at the area from his undamaged home Thursday.

“I think personally the work they did is what kept the fire away from here,” he said. “The firefighters did, too – don’t get me wrong – but if that stuff had still been up there it would have been a different story.”

Carson fire crews have done fuel management between homes in the neighborhood for the last few years, using grant money managed by the Nevada Division of Forestry.

“I’ll tell you, I’m 100 percent convinced our fuel work done along the south side of Lakeview saved those homes,” acting Fire Chief Stacey Giomi told residents. The city has also done thinning work along Wellington Crescent, Kings Canyon, C Hill, Clear Creek and Ash Canyon.

“One area where fire breaks really saved homes, in my estimation, was Wellington Crescent and the homes along Longview Estates and Ash Canyon,” he said.

The C Hill work also made a difference, he said.

“If you drive up there between Kingsview Way and Ormsby Boulevard you can see where the fire slowed down and in some cases just stopped.”

The city had started work in Timberline and was in the process of obtaining permission to access U.S. Forest Service property to continue work.

Along one steep ravine in Timberline the city was unable to obtain permission from landowners to reduce fuels. Homes were destroyed by fire in that area, Giomi said.

Fuel thinning involves cutting some brush from an area and trimming low branches from trees.

“Forest thinning and defensible space do not mean clear cutting,” said Jason Kirchner of the Burned Area Emergency Response team.

At the upper end of Wagon Wheel Road, beyond the end of the Forest Service thinning done in March, the Waterfall fire burned another 300 yards east.

More thinning is planned northwest of Lakeview above Franktown Road.

Appeal reporter Jill Lufrano contributed to this story. Contact Karl Horeis at khoreis@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1219.