Officials in Nevada see dry cheatgrass as a wildfire danger
May 31, 2017
GARDNERVILLE, Nev. (AP) — A wet winter has produced a bumper crop of cheatgrass that fire officials in northern Nevada expect will dry out and become prime fuel for the smallest of sparks during a hot, dry wildfire season ahead.
Battalion Chief Larry Goss of the East Fork Fire District tells The (Gardnerville) Record-Courier (http://bit.ly/2rdZJwO ) that the potential exists this summer for large, low-elevation wind-driven grass fires.
"It depends on how fast and when we see heat," Goss said. "We're anticipating that it will dry out the end of June or July. If there's not a break after this week's heat spell, it could dry out faster."
Officials have called the past winter one of the wettest in northern Nevada in more than a century. State and federal land managers told Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval last week that they're preparing for high fire danger.
Goss called the Pine Nut Mountains especially vulnerable, due to a combination of grassy fuels and stressed piñon trees.
East Fork Fire Chief Tod Carlini advised homeowners that they should clear foliage to create defensible space around houses.
Carlini said many upper slopes of the Pine Nuts have been reduced to cheatgrass, and there is a lot of unburned area in vulnerable mid-slope areas.
The same could be said for the Carson Range of the Sierra, which the Record-Courier said hasn't seen a big fire in Douglas County since 1996.
The area's biggest wildfire in 2016 claimed a home and other structures after flames driven by high winds crossed a field of dry grass and jumped the East Fork of the Carson River near the Lahontan Fish Hatchery.
After a wet year, a lightning strike in May might not spark a wildfire. But firefighters say last year's cheatgrass is dry enough to serve as tinder.
Firefighters training at Minden-Tahoe Airport found the grass is ready to burn, said East Fork Fire Capt. Terry Taylor .
The best way to avoid a big fire, Goss said, is to not let one start in the first place.
"It all boils down to starts," he said. "We want people to be careful with what they're doing on a daily basis, such as using chainsaws and doing other things in light fuels."
Information from: Gardnerville Record-Courier, http://www.recordcourier.com