Hot, Dry Summer Stokes Fears With Much Of Wildfire Season Ahead
Favorable weather helped in the battle against the Tamarack Fire, which has burned nearly 70,000 acres in Northern Nevada and California.
Rains late last week and over the weekend gave firefighters an assist and containment reached 80 percent for the 2-week-old, lightning-caused blaze.
"This fire edge is looking really good moving forward with some added rain yesterday and probably more today," the fire crew reported in a Facebook update.
The annual fire season is reaching its peak as years of drought and the early-summer heatwaves create the potential for more serious wildfires.
“The dryness that we saw during that six-week period in June, July, really intensified our drought conditions in those higher elevations of the Sierra and in all of California,” said Gina McGuire Palma, a fire meteorologist for the Great Basin Coordination Center. “That pushed everything forward — so our fuels were primed and ready when we started getting lightning and some more human starts.”
The drought has stressed the ecosystems to the point that many places in the West are becoming more vulnerable to fires.
“Conditions are very hot, dry, and the fuels just don't get a chance to recover over the winter,” said Tracy LeClair of the Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team, which responds to wildfires. “And so, we start every fire season, it seems, like a little bit drier.”
While fires have burned in the mountains, the Reno metropolitan area has been generally spared this season, said Adam Mayberry, fire communications manager for the Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District.
“We’re sort of in the doughnut hole. We've had all these large fires like the Tamarack Fire, the Beckworth Fire, the Dixie Fire, some other nearby fires that kind of surrounded the Reno-Sparks, Washoe County region,” he told State of Nevada. “But for the most part, at least through July, we had a handful of small brush fires, anywhere from one acre to four acres. We were able to get around them fairly quickly.”
A silver lining in the smoke is that many people stayed indoors, lowering the chance of a human-caused wildfire “because 85, 90 percent of our fires are caused by humans,” Mayberry said. “And so when humans aren't outside that reduces a wildfire threat a bit.”
While avoiding the fires themselves, people in the Reno area have been advised to stay indoors because of the risks smokey days can pose.
“Eight of our top 10 worst particulate pollution days (ever) have occurred within the last 11 months,” said Brendan Schnieder, an air quality specialist with the Washoe County Health District. “As long as there are wildfires burning to our west, smoke will easily be transported over the Sierra Nevadas and impact our communities in Nevada here.”
Adam Mayberry, fire communications manager, Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District; Tracy LeClair, spokeswoman, Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team; Brendan Schnieder, air quality specialist, Washoe County Health District; Gina McGuire Palma, fire meteorologist, Great Basin Coordination Center