Commission, BLM hear fiery response over proposed Jack Wright burn
A plan for a prescribed burn in the Jack Wright area of the Pine Nut Mountains is drawing fire from concerned residents.
Two residents told the Douglas County Commission Thursday that plans to burn 300 to 400 acres of dead brush and fire fuel is not only hazardous but harmful to nearby streams.
“I contend the burning of 400 acres is more dangerous and doesn’t alleviate one bit the danger of lightning,” said Victor Buron, who opposes the burn plan, and lives directly across from the proposed burn area.
The Bureau of Land Management met with the commission to answer questions about the plan.
The proposal puts nearby residents of Smith Valley at risk because of erratic windshifts prone to the area, Buron argued. Also of concern is the erosion the fire would cause to the Walker River.
“This is putting the public at risk, not to mention fire crews who would have to fight the fire if it should get out of hand,” Buron said. “I am here to tell you that I am not an opponent of burning… This proposal is dangerous and foolhardy.”
Buron cited BLM fires that burned out of control at Los Alamos, N.M., saying that there was not enough ground support to get at the fire before it reached its critical stage. Closer to home, Buron cited the Mount Como fire, which got out of hand in October and scorched 1,400 acres, as a measure of how the BLM was not prepared to stop the fire.
In the Mount Como fire the BLM concluded an approaching storm front dried out vegetation and that winds blew into an interior area of unburned trees that ignited and caused a spot fire.
Tim Roide, a fire ecologist with the Carson City field office, said the proposed Jack Wright fire would be set in spring or fall when the potential for a fire to spread would be lower because of cooler weather.
Teams would be put in place to monitor the status of the fire and the BLM would likely have fast access to fire crews and suppression teams if there appeared to be potential for it to grow, he said.
The proposed burn plan for Jack Wright is also different from the prescribed burn at Mount Como, Roide said. In the Mount Como area, the burn area was difficult to get into, with lots of heavy brush. With the Jack Wright fire, there would be burn piles of slash, arranged in “mosaic” pockets.
Topaz resident Valida McMichael said the area is part of a watershed and a burn would damage nearby streams.
A fire would disrupt the delicate balance of the ecosystem, McMichael said. The BLM “does not understand the consequences of messing with Mother Nature,” she said.
Commissioner Bernie Curtis, who represents the district where the burn plan is being proposed, told BLM officials he’s heard no support for the prescribed burn.
“The calls I’m getting have been 40-1 against this,” Curtis said. “My concern is that you ought to be taking a look at an alternative to burning.”
While there are alternatives to burning, such as mechanical treatment like chipping, the BLM is concerned moving heavy equipment into the area could damage bitterbrush that deer use to forage during migration.
Commissioner Steve Weissinger said he’s not entirely opposed to the burn plan, but that he understands the opponents’ concerns.
“I’m somewhat bothered when we place mule deer migration before humans,” Weissinger said. “But I do think, when properly done, controlled fire is a useful tool.”
The BLM will conduct a town hall meeting Feb. 9 at the Topaz Ranch Estates Community Center to address public concerns. The agency is encouraging public comment on the burn plan and a draft environmental assessment is available for public review.
Commissioners will attend the meeting to hear public comment and will make a recommendation to the BLM within 30 days.
Curtis said the onus of the burn lies solely at the feet of the BLM and said that many people will monitor it.
“If this does go off, this whole fire situation, you understand that you will be under the microscope,” he said.
What: Public meeting hosted by the Bureau of Land Management over the proposed Jack Wright prescribed burn
When: Friday, Feb. 9, 7 p.m.
Where: Topaz Ranch Estates Community Center, 4001 Carter Way, Topaz Ranch Estates