As if another reminder was required, Tahoe-Douglas firefighters doused a one-acre fire near Cave Rock on the Fourth of July that closed Highway 50 for an hour.
With dry breezy conditions in the forecast, the chances for a wildfire are increasing daily, prompting fire restrictions on public lands across the Sierra Front.
On the positive side, residents are aware of the danger and are showing an interest in trying to protect themselves and their property.
Sheridan Acres volunteer firefighters held an open house that saw more than 100 people turn out during the day, according to Volunteer Marshall Wilkinson.
Wilkinson said 11 people indicated an interest in becoming volunteers for Sheridan and three other East Fork stations on the event held June 25.
“There were lots of children and grandchildren, as well as visitors from our immediate service area, and going out into the Johnson Lane, Fish Springs, Ruhenstroth and Chichester neighborhoods,” Wilkinson said, thanking those who attended on behalf of the volunteers.
Sheridan, located at the base of Jobs Peak, was under threat of evacuation from both the Tamarack and Caldor fires last summer.
In the early days of the Tamarack Fire, concerns were that the blaze would jump Highway 88 and head into the Carson Range where it could come down on the Foothill Road area.
Caldor actually burned to within roughly five miles of the community before it was stopped on the other side of the mountains.
The open house offered an opportunity to educate residents about adapting Nevada communities for wildfire.
“A fire-adapted community is one that takes responsibility and makes efforts for defensible space, so they know they’ve done the best they can in reducing their risk and increasing their resiliency to wildfires with the tools to help firefighters,” said Fire Adapted Community Nevada Coordinator Kelli Nevills of the Nevada Division of Forestry.
The programs watchwords are “ready, set, go,” as in “ready for wildfire, set for wildfire and go, if there’s an evacuation.”
Three-score Topaz Ranch Estates residents attended a June 7 session at their community center about go-bags and evacuations.
Hundreds of TRE residents were evacuated as a result of the Caldor Fire.
Last year’s Caldor Fire saw the first mandatory evacuation in Douglas County history. In Nevada, only the governor may order people from their homes in an emergency, but part of the declaration for the Caldor Fire delegated that authority to Douglas County. In response to the threat, Stateline was evacuated. Fortunately, the fire never crossed into Nevada.
“With what’s predicted this summer, the biggest risk is the communities with only one way in and out,” Nevills said. “That poses a risk to firefighters who can’t get in to fight the fire with everybody trying to get out.”
East Fork Fire Chief Tod Carlini said he ran through fire computer simulations with Truckee Meadows Community College Fire Training Coordinator “Sandy” Munns.
He said one scenario with a lightning strike at the base of Jobs Peak for 48 hours without suppression had flames consuming Clear Creek and burning toward Carson City.
Another simulation showed what would have occurred if the Caldor Fire made it into the Motts Creek drainage without fire suppression.
“The results were rather devastating,” Carlini said. “It was an eye opener that there was that potential. The fire situation across the board is real.”
Lightning storms in the first few days of July 2021 ignited at least two major fires in the Sierra Front, including the East Fork and Tamarack.
Firefighters are preparing for the season with a unit back from the New Mexico fires after more than a month.
With natural water supplies in short supply, firefighters have been practicing setting up portable dip sites for helicopters
Carlini said both Jobs Peak Ranch above Sheridan, and Clear Creek above Jacks Valley, are among the highest risk in big fires.
“The primary concern is what goes on in the Foothill area from Alpine into Washoe,” he said. “In Douglas, there is significant risk and potential with vast amount of fuel that’s out there.”
Carlini said that includes areas that have burned in prior years, where grasses have replaced trees, bringing faster blazes.
“The overall observation of the wildland fire situation and how furious the fires are will be with us again this summer.”