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Fire Season Looms After Late Winter Storms Fuel Brush Growth

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — The late winter storms that helped bolster Nevada's lagging snowpack also jump-started the growth of grasses and brush that potentially could fuel another big wildfire season.

"I hate to use the term 'worst-case scenario,' but it's kind of leading into another potentially very active fire season," National Weather Service meteorologist Chris Smallcomb told Gov. Brian Sandoval Wednesday.

Smallcomb said the late precipitation push in March raised the snowpack from 36 percent of normal in February to 85 percent of normal as of March 27 at Tahoe.

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"Now you've got the accumulated vegetation of the grasses from the previous year plus the new stuff from this year," he said.

More flashy fuels isn't the only concern, as the weather service said less than average snowpack also means dryer vegetation.

"Now the trees are starting off with a lot less moisture and then as they get into the hot parts of summer they'll dry out sooner," said Smallcomb.

State Forester Kacey KC agreed "conditions are aligning to have a lot of natural-cause fires."

In 2017, 1.3 million acres burned in Nevada from wildfires, marking the third-worst wildfire season in recorded history. KC said 2018 is off to a hotter start, with 40 fires coming in the first two months of the year.

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All 40 of those fires, she added, were started by humans.

"Last year, we didn't even hit fire season until about June," she said.

Northern Nevada in particular is predicted to be one of most at-risk areas in the country for wildfires from May through July, KC said.