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The city of Elko is the County seat of Elko County with a population of approximately 18,400 people. It is located on Interstate 80 at an elevation of approximately 4,500 feet. The Humboldt River runs through the town. The community hazard assessment resulted in classifying Elko in the Moderate Hazard category (58 points). A summary of the factors that contribute to this hazard rating is included in Table 24-3. The rating is primarily attributed to inadequate defensible space and potentially erratic fire behavior and high fire intensity that could result in difficult fire control conditions. The community boundary identified for this report is shown in Figure 24-1.
The Elko wildland-urban interface has a mix of classic and intermix interface conditions. In most of the community, clear boundary between structures and wildland fuels exists. In other areas structures and wildland fuels are scattered throughout the community, with no clear separation between structures and wildland fuels. A total of 973 homes were included in the assessment: 720 on lots of one acre or less in size, 249 on parcels of one to ten acres; and four on parcels of over ten acres in size.
Ninety-six percent of the homes observed in the interface area are built with non-combustible or highly fire resistant siding materials such as medium density fiberboard. Ninety-nine percent of the homes have fire resistant roofing made of composition materials, metal, or tile. One-third of the homes have unenclosed porches, decks, or balconies that create drafts and provide areas where sparks and embers can lodge, smolder, ignite, and rapidly spread fire to the house.
Only two-thirds of the homes observed in the interface meet the minimum defensible space requirement recommended to help protect the home from damage or loss during a wildfire.
The Elko Fire Department consists of the career department staffed by seventeen career firefighters and the Lee Company volunteers with 35 volunteer firefighters. Table 24-1 lists the types of local wildfire resources, cooperating partners, and equipment available for initial response to Elko in the event of a reported wildfire. Additional resources are available from local, state, and federal agencies through mutual aid agreements as described in Section 4.1.1.
|Type of Equipment||Amount of Equipment||Cooperating Partner
|Type 1 Engine
Type 3 Engine
Type 4 Engine
Type 5 Engine
|Elko Fire Department/Lee Company
|Type 4 Engine||1||Bureau of Land Management
|Type 3 Engine
Type 1 Water Tender
|Nevada Division of Forestry
|Source: Sam Hicks, Nevada Division of Forestry Elko County Prevention Captain; Alan Kightlinger, Elko Fire Department Chief|
Water resources available to the community for fire suppression include hydrants within 500 feet of structures with minimum flows of 500 gpm. There are nine storage tanks in the area with a total capacity of 23 million gallons. The water system is powered by gravity and electric pumps. There are emergency generators for the water system in the event of a power outage.
All Elko Fire Department and Lee Company firefighters have a minimum of State Fire Marshal Entry Level firefighting training and Nevada Division of Forestry Basic Wildland Firefighting training.
The Elko Fire Department responded to approximately 1500 calls in 2003:
Funding for the Elko Fire Department is provided through the City of Elko Emergency Funds, the Elko County General Fund, and through agreements with the Nevada Division of Forestry and the Bureau of Land Management.
Elko County has an active Local Emergency Planning Committee and has adopted an emergency plan that includes a hazardous materials response plan and an all-risk disaster response plan, which is updated annually. The City of Elko maintains an Emergency Plan, a Pre-attack Plan, and an emergency evacuation plan. The Elko Fire Department reviews development plans and has an enforced brush clearance program. The Elko Fire Department strictly enforces the fire code and the city ordinance for minimum clearance around structures.
The vegetative fuel density in the Elko interface area is generally moderate, estimated at two to three tons per acre. The fuel hazard is moderate. Fuels consist primarily of two to four feet tall sagebrush and rabbitbrush, with an understory of cheatgrass, squirreltail, crested wheatgrass, basin wildrye, and other annuals. In the southeast area of the community pinyon and juniper trees increase the fuel loading to five to eight tons per acre, resulting in a high fuel hazard. The terrain within the community boundary is gently rolling with slopes of eight to twenty percent. The prevailing wind direction is from the south and southwest. There is a history of summer afternoon thunderstorms and dry lightning strikes in the area.
The Bureau of Land Management Elko Field Office has been actively planning and implementing fuels reduction treatments near Elko and along Interstate 80 between Elko and the Osino area. Phases I and II of the Elko North greenstrip have been completed in 2004 and 2005 respectively. The greenstrips were constructed using mechanical mastication equipment to remove sagebrush fuels. Approximately 387 acres were treated. A third phase of the greenstrip is planned for construction on the north side of Interstate 80 from Elko to the northwest boundary of Osino. The greenstrip will be 300 feet wide for a total treatment area of approximately 285 acres.
The worst-case scenario for a wildfire in the area surrounding Elko would start southwest of town in a year with high cheatgrass production. A strong southwest wind would drive the fire towards town, fueled by annual grasses. The fire could spot across the firebreak and spread through the brush, threatening homes in the community.
Elko has a moderate ignition risk based on fire history in the area and the potential for increased fuel loading from annuals in high precipitation years. The primary risk of ignition in Elko is lightning, although human caused ignitions are unpredictable and can occur at any time.
The Bureau of Land Management Elko Field Office has been actively planning and implementing fuels reduction treatments near Elko and along Interstate 80 between Elko and the Osino/Ryndon area. Phases I and II of the Elko North greenstrip were completed in 2004 and 2005 respectively. The City of Elko also maintains a 75 to 150 foot wide firebreak around portions of the city.
The responsibility to keep a community fire safe falls not only on the local fire protection district but also on the residents, businesses, and local governments. The recommendations for the Elko area focus primarily on the ongoing and additional efforts to create and maintain defensible space and on the future requirements that new developments will be planned and constructed to create fire safe communities. Other recommendations pertain to community coordination and public education efforts that could be undertaken to enhance fire safety.
Defensible space treatments are an essential first line of defense for residential structures. The goal of the treatments is to significantly reduce or remove flammable vegetation within a prescribed distance from structures. (Refer to Appendix E for the recommended defensible space area). Defensible space reduces the fire intensity and improves firefighter and homeowner chances for successfully defending a structure against an oncoming wildfire.
Fuel reduction treatments are applied on a larger scale than defensible space treatments. Permanently changing the fuel characteristics over large blocks of land to one of a lower volume and one of altered distribution reduces the risk of a catastrophic wildfire in the treated area. Reducing vegetation along roadways and driveways could reduce the likelihood of blocking access and escape routes, help contain the fire perimeter, and improve firefighter access and safety for protecting homes.
A public education program that explains fire safe measures in clear and emphatic terms will have an impact on residents of the wildland-urban interface. Informed community members will be more inclined to make efforts to effectively reduce wildfire hazards around their homes and neighborhoods.
|Involved Party||Recommended Treatment||Recommendation Description|
|Defensible Space||Remove, reduce, and replace vegetation around homes according to the guidelines in Appendix E.
Maintain the defensible space as needed.
|Community Coordination||Ensure residential addresses are easily visible from the road.|
|Utility Company||Fuels Reduction||Reduce and remove vegetation to maintain clearance around power lines. Clear vegetation within fifteen feet of utility poles near the community. Remove all trees from beneath power lines. Reduce and remove vegetation to maintain a minimum clearance of fifty feet from fences around power substations.|
Nevada Department of Transportation
|Fuels Reduction||Reduce vegetation and maintain roads by mowing all vegetation to a height of no more than four inches for a distance of twenty feet from the edge of the road on both sides of the road.|
|Elko Fire Department||Fire Suppression Resources||Upgrade the communication system to narrow band technology for communication compatibility.
Continue to meet annually with the cooperating agencies to review their pre-attack plans for the community.
|Community Coordination||Continue to conduct courtesy inspections of defensible space condition and defensible space treatments on private property.
Coordinate with the appropriate agencies to improve street sign visibility.
|Public Education||Distribute copies of the publication “Living With Fire” to all property owners. This publication is free of charge. Copies can be requested from the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.|
|Elko County||Community Coordination||Continue to require all future development in the County to meet the National Fire Codes with regard to community design, building construction and spacing, road construction and design, water supply and emergency access. Refer to Appendix F for an example of fire safe recommendations for planning new developments.|
Elko Wildfire Hazard Rating Summary
Elko Fire History, Suppression Resources, Critical Features, and Mitigation Projects