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Fire now contained

Charles Levinson, Sierra Sun

Firefighters successfully contained the entirety of the Martis Fire at 6 p.m. last Sunday and are now shifting their focus to the rehabilitation needs of the fire-scarred landscape.

Though 100 percent containment has been declared and smoke is no longer visible over the Reno skyline, fire personnel warn that the fire is not, so to speak, out of the woods just yet.

“The fire is not considered out,” Kathleen Kavalok with the Carson Ranger District said Tuesday. “We still have crews working on it and there is still danger.”

Kavalok warned that stumps and underground roots can continue to burn all summer long and will not be fully extinguished until the snow falls next winter.

With the mushrooming smoke cloud long gone from the hills east of Truckee and with local media no longer saturating its broadcasts and newspapers with fire coverage, the public is under the misguided notion that the work is done, warned Kavalok.

Firefighters had to suspend air operations last weekend when glider planes invaded the closed air space over the fire to see for themselves the havoc wrought by the blaze.

Crews have also encountered motorcyclists and off roaders wandering the back roads into the fire zone. Aside from the possibility of flare-ups inside the fire’s perimeter, Kavalok said that erosion issues such as washed out roads and unstable boulders can present dangers to curiosity seekers.

Personnel battling the blaze, once numbering upwards of 3,000, was down to 315 people as of Monday night. Two smaller helicopters are still dropping water on isolated hot spots and on the fire’s perimeter to ensure the fire remains within its walls.

The U.S. Forest Service Burned Area Emergency Rehabilitation (BAER) team is on scene and has been evaluating the burned area since June 17, the day the Martis Fire began (see story below).

The rehabilitation effort is expected to occur in three phases. Phase one began immediately, has been ongoing throughout the fire, and is still progressing. Phase one primarily involves the restoration of the visible scars left from the act of fighting fires. This includes removal of trash and all equipment, re-contouring bulldozer lines and returning native soil and duff to affected sites so they will appear natural and retain soil moisture.

Phase two of the rehabilitation effort began on day three of the fire. Through a number of field trips out to burnt areas, BAER teams have been evaluating the extent of the impact on vegetation in each canyon, meadow and forested area affected by the fire.

The third phase is a long term inter-agency effort involving a wide range of organizations, from the Washoe County Office of Emergency Services to Truckee Meadows Water Authority. The groups will work together to implement the BAER team’s proposals.

Fire crews said the Martis Fire, which in its early stages consumed 2,000 acres of land each hour, spread faster than they had ever seen. Winds, extensive fuels and low moisture content all contributed to a fire that rapidly spiraled out of control.

Kavalok said that after getting off to an inauspicious beginning the turning point for crews battling the blaze occurred last Saturday when fire fighters were able to successfully fend off strong winds that arrived with a Pacific Ocean cold front.

“The wind event was forecasted as early as Monday and they wanted to get in there and hit it really hard that first week,” Kavalok said. “They slowed it down so that the winds weren’t a problem.”

There have been no major injuries due to the fire. Minor injuries have included dehydration, sprained ankles and one possible hernia. Four fire fighters have been treated for heat exhaustion and, in an ironic twist, one was treated for hypothermia during the rain, sleet and snow on Mount Rose last week.

“There are crews here whose bodies are just not used to those cold temperatures like the Hawaiian and Samoan crews,” Kavalok said.

The Martis Fire was sparked Sunday, June 17, around noon. The cause of the fire is still under investigation, though authorities said it appears to be the result of an escaped campfire above the town of Hirschdale.


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