If predictions come true, this will be a horrible fire season. Fuel loads in some places in Nevada are at 100 to 300 percent of normal for this time of year. The Lake Tahoe Basin is in a moderate drought. The snowpack this past winter was dismal, which means the fuel loads from the previous season were not packed down.
“We are already seeing a very active fire season,” Kacey KC, Nevada forest fire warden, said. “We have had 146 fires so far this year burning just shy of 10,000 acres.” Six were caused by lightning.
Timber is dry in the basin, including in higher elevations.
On June 3, fire officials talked about the outlook for this season. Participating in the Zoom session with KC were Chris Smallcomb, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Reno; Paul Petersen, BLM Nevada State Fire; Gwen Sanchez, Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest fire management officer; Carrie Thaler, Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit forest fire management officer; and Dave Cochran, Nevada Fire Chiefs Association president.
Fire restrictions are in place for the Lake Tahoe Basin and Nevada. Specifics are available on each jurisdiction’s website. There are rules about fireworks (they are illegal everywhere in Tahoe), target shooting and other activities that could cause a fire. Throughout Nevada people must stop cutting wood on public lands by 1pm. Campfires are allowed only at designated sites and must be fully extinguished before going to bed or leaving the area.
In the basin illegal campfires are the No. 1 cause of fires. In California, 90 percent of fires are started by people. On the Humboldt-Toiyabe in the last 10 years on average 37 percent of fires were human caused, while in 2019 it was 41 percent.
What concerns fire officials for this summer is the higher than normal temps that are in the forecast.
“The outlook is for an above average fire season,” Smallcomb with the Weather Service said. Without moisture, it could mean more fires in the higher elevations as well. He isn’t ready to predict what the rainfall will be like this summer, but Smallcomb does say models show a “strong signal for above normal temperatures.” This spring record temperatures have been set locally and throughout Nevada. This dries out vegetation at all elevation levels.
Fewer red flag warnings were issued last year compared to years past. These days are based on high wind, low humidity and/or the threat of dry lightning. The warning allows fire agencies to be on heightened alert.
Nevada and Lake Tahoe Basin agencies are fully staffed with permanent and seasonal firefighting crews. Based on the threat of a bad fire season extra resources have been added. The Bureau of Land Management in Nevada has added 21 additional firefighters, the Humboldt-Toiyabe has 18 more seasonal firefighters as well as two additional contract helicopters based in Minden, and the LTBMU has an additional helicopter housed at Lake Tahoe Airport in South Lake Tahoe. Fourteen fire cameras will be added this year in Nevada to the 39 that already exist. These help detect fires and can aid in determining the amount of resources needed to combat a blaze.
Fire agencies are putting in protocols to deal with COVID-19. Cochran, with the Nevada Fire Chiefs Association, said firefighters deployed to a wildland fire will stay within a unit to reduce spreading the virus (assuming someone has it) to everyone, personnel will have their temperature checked daily, trips to town won’t happen, outsiders won’t be allowed into the fire camp, and other measures are in place to keep firefighters healthy.