Nevada state will be hot, dry and flammable this summer, officials say |

Nevada state will be hot, dry and flammable this summer, officials say

A below normal snow pack, heavy fuel load and above normal temperatures augur a “much more active fire season” than last year, according to Kacey KC, forester and fire warden for the Nevada state Division of Forestry.

In a press briefing on Zoom, forestry officials, National Weather Service, federal Bureau of Land Management, Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, U.S. Forestry Service and the Nevada Fire Chiefs Association revealed their firefighting plans and resources for what promises to be an especially long, hot summer complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The fire season is already “three to four weeks ahead” of normal for this time of year, said Paul Petersen, a fire management officer for the Bureau of Land Management, Nevada.

Chris Smallcomb, a meteorologist for the weather service in Reno, said he was “iffy” on predicting precipitation months in advance, but he saw one “screaming signal” warning of dangerous fire weather — above normal temperatures.

“We’re about 100 to 300% of our normal fuel-loading,” reported KC. “It’s already an above-normal fire season.”

In light of recent, devastating fires in the off season, KC later corrected herself, reminding her colleagues and the press, “They’re fire years, not fire seasons.”

Although each jurisdiction differs in details, campfires are generally prohibited except in designated areas, because “in California 90% of all wildfires are human-caused,” stated Carrie Thaler, forest fire management officer for the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit of the forest service.

“In the Lake Tahoe Basin the number one cause of those fires is illegal, abandoned camp fires,” she said. “The Lake Tahoe Basin will be in a ‘watch-out’ situation … especially in July and August.”

Gwen Sanchez, fire management officer for the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, reported “hoot owl restrictions” are already in place for Nevada and California.

At more than 6 million acres, the Humboldt-Toiyabe is the largest national forest outside of Alaska. It is unusual in that it is spread out in non-contiguous areas throughout Nevada state and eastern California.

Wood cutting is prohibited after 1 p.m. this summer, and absolutely forbidden during red flag warnings, Sanchez said.

Red flag warnings are issued when sustained winds exceed 30 mph, humidity drops below 15%, or if there is a high probability of lightning strikes, explained Smallcomb.

The Bureau of Land Management’s Petersen and others noted the low snowpack, carry-over fuel load and high melt-off in higher elevations greatly increases the risk of fire above 8,000 feet.

“The fire doesn’t care if there’s a pandemic,” said David Cochran, fire chief of the Reno Fire Department and president of the Nevada Fire Chiefs Association.

Because of COVID-19, most Nevada state firefighters are screened every day and before they are dispatched to a wildfire, he said.

Furthermore, firefighters are separated into “modules of one” and required not to comingle with other modules or the public. “The idea there is to isolate … infection and exposure to that module so the entire firefighting force is not affected,” Cochran explained.

As an indicator of just how serious authorities are taking this summer’s fire danger, all fire agencies in the press briefing not only reported they were fully staffed, but that additional personnel and assets like aircraft have been acquired.

There have been no budget cuts, they affirmed.

Both Thaler and Sanchez emphasize the critical role citizens must play in preventing wildfires.

Smallcomb put it more bluntly “Don’t be stupid … especially on red flag days.”

Tom Durkin is a staff writer with The Union, a sister publication of the Sierra Sun based in Grass Valley.

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