Fighting fires ahead of time
May 8, 2013
It has been 17 years since Carson Valley has seen a real conflagration in the Carson Range. That was the year the Autumn Hills fire started near the base of Kingsbury Grade and burned four homes and 3,400 acres. The 2004 Waterfall fire in Carson City destroyed 18 homes and burned 8,800 acres.
What those two fires have in common is that they moved quickly through thick forest and were affected by downslope winds, which drove Waterfall into homes on Carson City's west side.
Firefighters hope a 72-acre fuels reduction project in Haines Canyon on Kingsbury Grade could make a difference in keeping the flames from claiming homes and businesses at the top of the grade.
"The fuels, topography and winds in Haines Canyon would support a catastrophic fire, and would defy suppression efforts," according to a report prepared by Tahoe-Douglas firefighter John Pickett.
The canyon, formed by Daggett Creek, runs from the Carson Valley floor to the top of Kingsbury Grade. Near its top, the forest is very thick, though it thins out down the hill.
It is also full of brush and dead trees that can allow a fire to climb into the tree crowns. Combined with afternoon downslope winds, any fire could spread rapidly.
The $237,000 proposal nominated for funding under the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act would thin trees and brush around the Kingsbury General Improvement District maintenance yard and Heavenly Ski Resorts where there's a chance that a fire might start.
"Due to the nature of operations at these facilities, there is increased risk of an ignition which would rapidly spread to the wildland area and threaten numerous multi-family dwellings on the summit of Kingsbury Grade as well as other properties in Haines Canyon," Pickett said.
There are three developed parcels on Kingsbury Grade, which have long winding driveways that will also be subject of the fuel mitigation work.
Firefighters hope they can reduce the thickness of trees around these homes so they can survive a major wildfire.
"Even after fuels reduction it is unlikely that suppression crews could safely access the properties or residents could evacuate if a fire starts during critical fire weather," according to the report. "The proposal is to create survivable space around the homes so that defensible space can be effective and the evacuations can be conducted after the fire front passes."
The act, which generates money through the sale of public land in the Las Vegas Valley, is in its 14th round. Last year, the 540-acre James Canyon Ranch was nominated for $1.42 million in conservation funding by the Nevada Land Conservancy.
The Bureau of Land Management is seeking public comment on the preliminary recommendations for the expenditures. Written comments will be accepted until June 19.
Recommendations in this round include $8.7 million, slightly more than was included in Round 13. Outside of fuels reduction projects around Lake Tahoe, most of the money will be spent in Eastern Nevada.
Residents may submit comments to the SNPLMA Executive Committee Chair, BLM Nevada State Office, 1340 Financial Blvd., Reno, NV 89502-7147, by fax to the attention of the SNPLMA Executive Committee Chair at (775) 861-6601, or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.