West side fire line takes shape | NevadaAppeal.com

West side fire line takes shape

by Kurt Hildebrand

On the eve of fire season, a defensive line along Carson City’s western boundary is taking shape.

When completed, the line will stretch from University Heights to Kings Canyon, providing homeowners at the city’s marches with an edge in case of a wildland fire.

The line already stretches as far as Ash Canyon and work continues north to meet work done south from University Heights.

Unlike the popular conception of a fire break, these lines between homes and the wildland contain brush which serves as cover for small animals and feed for deer.

Carson City Fire Department Assistant Battalion Chief Steve Mihelic is working with state and federal groups to help pay for work that will hopefully reduce wildland fire damage.

Tony Arce of Northtree Fire International operated the little tractor known as an all-seasons vehicle, with a cutting blade on the front that cuts down brush and then mulches it into the soil.

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“Where is all the brush?” asked Jenny Scanland, a steward forester with the Nevada Division of Forestry as she surveyed the break on either side of the Ash Canyon wilderness access.

Having the brush mulched back into the soil eliminates having to haul it off and leaves good soil for whatever future planting might be done.

“I’m amazed at this,” said Susan Sturtevant of the Division of Forestry. “The chipper puts the material back into the soil. I’d be interested in seeking what this looks like after it rains.”

Sturtevant said the land could be replanted with wildflowers.

Mihelic said the work walks a fine line between reducing fire danger without adversely affecting the environment and still leaving enough brush for the area to be attractive.

“We’re trying to be wildlife friendly, environmentally friendly and aesthetically friendly,” Mihelic said.

Cutting out some of the brush reduces the canopy which prevents flame retardant from reaching areas burning close to the ground.

“With the thick brush canopy I would say you would have about a 50-50 chance of putting out a fire from the air,” he said. “Without the canopy I would say the chances are 100 percent.”

Arce cleared 4.5 acres on Thursday behind the Wellington subdivision.

Money from the National Fire Plan authorized by Congress and administered by the U.S. Forest Service was filtered through the Nevada Division of Forestry. Mihelic applied for 10 grants totaling about $240,000.

In Lakeview, where much of the clearing is done by inmate crews, Mihelic had help from landowners who permitted workers on their property.

Scanland said Mihelic is leading the charge to build fire breaks all along the Sierra Front, which stretches from Reno south through Washoe, Eagle and Carson valleys.