Helicopters re-seed Washoe fire area

RENO (AP) - Helicopters crews working to restore Northern Nevada plant life charred in last month's Washoe Drive Fire could get some help from Mother Nature in the spring in the form of underground roots that survived the blaze.

Aircraft buzzed over more than 500 acres of Bureau of Land Management property Monday to drop seeds for sagebrush and native and non-native grasses. Federal officials say the plant mix was chosen based on its ability to resist fire and control erosion.

Erosion danger can last for a year or two after flames are extinguished. Big winter storms are a current concern to be followed in the summer by thunderstorms.

"If you have a big storm event that just nails a steeper slope, that's when you have the potential for soil movement," said Alan Bittner, an acting field manager for the BLM.

The good news is the fire driven by winds gusting in excess of 80 mph blasted through the land so quickly that many roots survived. That means that seeds dropped Monday could be joined by returning native vegetation.

"You see a burnt-off landscape, but the plants are still alive. At least some of them are," Bittner said.

The Washoe Drive Fire destroyed 29 homes after a resident improperly disposed of fireplace ashes. It came two months after the destructive Caughlin Fire.

The same dry winter weather responsible for the rare January wildfire could serve as an impediment to successful seeding, experts said. A little moisture is needed to help the grass and brush seeds dropped by helicopter take root and flourish.

"Hopefully we will get a little bit of weather because that window is closing," Bittner said. "There's just a short weather window to do this."

The BLM also is seeding other fire areas, including land scorched by the Ray May Fire, which burned some 3,800 acres in Douglas County last August, as well as smaller fires that burned in Alpine County, Calif., and in the Dogskin Mountains north of Reno. The BLM was able to adjust its contracts for those projects, import additional seed and quickly implement efforts at the scene of the Washoe Drive Fire, Bittner said.


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