Fire officials expect long hot season | RecordCourier.com

Fire officials expect long hot season

The first weekend of summer was a hot one for firefighters battling blazes across Douglas County.

A fire on Wild Oat Mountain above Topaz Lake 10 a.m. Saturday morning burned 2 acres of its namesake vegetation before a lucky breeze forced it back, giving firefighters a chance to get ahead of it.

Two helicopters, an East Fork brush truck and a Bureau of Land Management engine were able to get it extinguished.

It was the second fire in two hours in the south county after firefighters responded to Highway 208 and Albite Road in Topaz Ranch Estates.

Both fires were started by a bird in the electric lines, according to East Fork Deputy Chief Dave Fogerson.

By Sunday the action moved to Carson Valley, including a backyard fire in Chichester Estates, a weed burn near the water skiing ponds and an agricultural burn that escaped its handler.

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Firefighters were preparing for more of the same on Monday as the National Weather Service issued a red flag warning.

"Our grasses are burning very well," Fogerson said. "Heavier fuels are not without a wind behind them. We stand to see a long and hot summer, especially when monsoon season gives us thunderstorms as fire starts."

The proliferation of cheat and other grasses in burned areas across the Pine Nuts will change the nature of wildfires in Douglas County.

"We are seeing a lot of grass fires that are burning until 10 a.m. the next day and then take three days to mop up," Fogerson said at Friday's Local Emergency Planning Committee.

"We've had a conversion where once we had sagebrush and piñons, especially in the Pine Nuts those have burned through the years."

He said that range land has converted to cheat grass, so what once took five days to burn will burn off more quickly.

He said so far the heavier brush and trees are not quite ready to burn, but that's going to change as warm temperatures continue.

"Now we're going to see those heavier fuels dry out," he said.

So far most of the large fires, including Voltaire and Upper Colony, have been started by people.

Upper Colony is reported to have begun when the brakes on a truck hauling rocks out of the Pine Nuts overheated and set the grass on fire.

Fogerson said the impending monsoon season will bring more fire starts from lightning.

He pointed out that a single lightning strike in Woodfords back in April set a fire that threatened homes.

"One lightning strike in Alpine County made one fire in Alpine County," he said. "If we continue that, it's not going to be good odds, and so far that seems to be where our fuel beds are going."

In an effort to get residents prepared before the fires start, the fire district is working on a wildland fire protection plan, which contains a component to replace the old fire safe chapters.

For more information on preparing for wildland fires, visit livingwithfire.com

"We urge and beg everyone to be smart about any outdoor actions around vegetation," Fogerson said. "Be prepared for a fire to start when recreating: carry a shovel and water."

He thanked Douglas County and the Sierra Front dispatch centers, and to the sheriff's office and the Nevada Game Warden for keeping Topaz Lake Park clear for fire equipment.