Resource Concepts, Inc.
Celebrating 31 Years 1978-2009
Engineering • Surveying • Resources & Environmental Services
The Healthy Forests Initiative was announced by the White House in 2002 to implement the core components of the National Fire Plan Collaborative Approach for Reducing Wildland Fire Risks to Communities and the Environment Ten Year Comprehensive Strategy. The Plan calls for more active forest and rangeland management to reduce the threat of wildland fire in the wildland-urban interface, the area where homes and wildland meet. This report was prepared specifically forcommunities in Lander County, Nevada, that were identified in the 2001 Federal Register list of communities at risk within the vicinity of federal lands.
The Nevada Fire Safe Council contracted with Resource Concepts, Inc. (RCI) to assemble a team of experts in the fields of fire behavior and suppression, natural resource ecology, and geographic information systems (GIS) to complete the assessment for each Lander County community listed in the Federal Register. The RCI Project Team spent several days inventorying conditions in Lander County, and completing the primary data collection and verification portion of the risk assessment. Field visits were conducted in May 2004.
Ten Lander County communities were included in this assessment. Tenabo was listed on the Federal Register, however no residents currently live in that community. As a result, it was not included in the assessment.
Austin and Battle Mountain are the only two communities included in this project in Lander County that contain urban neighborhoods. With the exception of Hilltop, which is a subdivision of Battle Mountain, and the Battle Mountain Colony, the remaining communities are rural ranching areas or historic mining sites that are home to comparatively few residents with wide expanses of undeveloped property (usually public lands) between private parcels.
Five primary factors that affect potential fire hazard were evaluated to develop a community hazard assessment score: community design, construction materials, defensible space, availability and capability of fire suppression resources, and physical conditions such as the vegetative fuel load and topography. Information on fire suppression capabilities and responsibilities for Lander County communities was obtained through interviews with local fire chiefs and fire management officers (federal and state). The Fire Specialists on the RCI Project Team assigned an ignition risk rating of low, moderate, or high to each community. That rating was based on historical ignition patterns, interviews with local fire department personnel, interviews with state and federal agency fire personnel, field visits to each community, and professional judgment based on experience with wildland fire ignitions in Nevada. Table 1-1 lists the communities and identifies the risk and hazard assessment results for each community.
|Community||Interface Classification||Fuel Hazard||Ignition Risk Rating||Community Hazard Rating|
|Austin||Intermix||High to Extreme||High||High|
|Battle Mountain||Intermix and Classic Interface||Low||Moderate||Low|
|Battle Mountain Colony||Classic Interface||Low||Low||Low|
|Carico Valley||Rural||Low to Moderate||Low||N/A|
|Gilman Springs||Classic Interface||Moderate||Moderate||Moderate|
|Grass Valley||Rural||Moderate to Extreme||High||N/A|
|Kingston||Intermix||Moderate to High||High||High|
|N/A - The Community Hazard Assessment procedures are not applicable in rural ranch communities.|
The predominant fuel type in Lander County is salt desert shrub. Communities near the Toiyabe Range, such as Austin and Kingston, have a pinyon-juniper tree component that significantly increases fuel loading and fuel hazard in the interface areas around those communities. Cheatgrass occurrence is widespread throughout Lander County. Cheatgrass growth depends on annual moisture. In years of high precipitation, cheatgrass can more than double its height and volume, dramatically increasing the annual fuel loading and the fuel hazard.
There are no paid fire departments in Lander County. Battle Mountain, Austin, and Kingston have volunteer fire departments. The Bureau of Land Management Battle Mountain Field Office provides additional fire suppression resources when requested, as do the US Forest Service Austin Ranger District and the Nevada Division of Forestry Carlin Conservation Camp. The BLM Winnemucca Field Office provides air attack resources when requested and available.
The communities most at risk in Lander County are Austin and Kingston. Austin has a high risk of ignition and high potential for structure loss from wildfire. The community sits in an east-west oriented canyon with predominant winds from the west-southwest. Heavy stands of pinyon-juniper, decadent sagebrush with cheatgrass understory, and tall brush are present in and around the community. Old, weathered historic buildings in the community are sometimes surrounded by hazardous vegetation. Vacant lots within the community are overgrown with vegetation. High and extreme fuel hazard areas threaten a fuel tank storage area west of town. An ignition in any area around Austin could easily spread into the community if it is wind driven through continuous fuels. The topography of the canyon and the predominant wind direction would create a chimney effect, drawing fire up the canyon and through the community. This type of fire could exceed initial attack response capabilities and result in structure and property loss and potential loss of life.
Of the ten communities that were evaluated, Kingston received the highest community hazard score. This was attributed to community design and construction factors that can be addressed to reduce the hazards in the community. The lack of water sources for fire suppression and limited access roads in Kingston are of paramount concern.
There is no way to completely eliminate the threat of wildfire in the wildland-urban interface. The Bureau of Land Management has already initiated hazard mitigation by implementing fuel reduction treatments and establishing greenstrips around Austin. Further recommendations in this report are based on the analysis of community-specific conditions observed in Lander County and site assessments completed by the Bureau of Land Management Battle Mountain Field Office. Recommendations are focused on:
Close and continued coordination between citizens, county officials, local fire departments, the Bureau of Land Management, the Nevada Division of Forestry, and the US Forest Service is crucial in Lander County. There is no guarantee that a wildfire will not occur in any of these communities, even if all the recommendations in this report are implemented. Nonetheless, public awareness, neighbors helping neighbors, and concerned proactive individuals setting examples for others to follow are just some of the approaches necessary to reduce the risk of wildfire ignition and the hazards inherent in the wildland-urban interface areas.
Acknowledging the need for ongoing fuels management on public and private lands is vital for fire safe living in a wildfire-prone environment. The best possible assurance for long-term community safety from wildfire requires a permanent commitment to the enforcement of fire safe ordinances at the local level. Mandatory fuels management includes regular monitoring and evaluation of fuel conditions and maintenance or implementation of additional fuel reduction treatments as development continues to encroach at the wildland-urban interface.
Further information and assistance regarding implementation of the recommendations in this report can be obtained from any of the following agencies or organizations.
|Nevada Fire Safe Councilfirstname.lastname@example.org
|Nevada Division of Forestry||Fire Program Coordinator
|Nevada Association of Countiesemail@example.com.|
|Bureau of Land Management Nevada State Office||Nevada BLM State Fire Management Officer
|Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest Supervisors Office||H-T Supervisor’s Office Fire Staff Officer