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Nevada forest officials issue warning for fire season

by Christy Chalmers

Nevada’s wildland fire season is officially under way, and firefighters are warning it could be devastating.

Warm, dry and windy weather preceded State Forester Roy Trenoweth’s fire season declaration, effective midnight Friday. Vegetation is drying quickly, and a higher-than-average amount could mean fast-spreading wildfires.

“We have the vegetation growth to provide a lot of fuel for a wildland fire,” said Steve Frady, prevention and enforcement officer for the Nevada Division of Forestry. “We’re looking at the potential for the same kind of fire season that we had last year.”

In 1999, 1.8 million acres in Nevada burned. Cheat grass, a common and flammable fuel, has been estimated at 2,900 to 3,000 pounds per acre, compared to the usual 250-700 pounds per acre, Frady said.

“A pound of cheat grass burning has the same energy release as a gallon of gasoline,” said Frady. “And, it is curing much faster than normal.”

East Fork Fire Inspector Terry Taylor said the brush along Douglas County’s roads is very dry.

“It becomes really critical not to flip your cigarettes out the window,” he noted.

Motorists should also take care to park in dirt areas, because heat from vehicles can ignite vegetation on a warm day.

Temperatures near 90 degrees on a dry day mean low moisture levels that leave plant fuel ready to ignite by mid-afternoon, and a few of those days have already passed.

“We’re still in June and that’s sort of more July or August weather,” said Taylor. “It’s not normally that dry at this time of the year.”

Firefighters are encouraging residents to create defensible space around their homes. By clearing brush and other combustibles, homeowners can give firefighters a better chance to defend structures and decrease the chance of a wildfire engulfing a home.

Outdoor enthusiasts are also reminded to be careful and use spark arrestors on off-road vehicles and get any necessary permits for camping or other activities. People who start fires negligently can be charged for the cost of fighting the fires and even face criminal charges.

Taylor recommends carrying a shovel and water into the back country to suppress potential fires. He also reminds Douglas County residents that use and possession of fireworks is illegal.

“Two or three of the major wildland fires in our region each year are initiated by fireworks,” he said. “We’re going to take a dim view of that this year.”