Resource Concepts, Inc.
Celebrating 31 Years 1978-2009
Engineering • Surveying • Resources & Environmental Services
Gerlach is located in northern Washoe County, approximately 100 miles north of Reno. The community is situated in the flats, south of the Granite Range along State Route 447. The community boundary is shown in Figure 14-1. The community hazard assessment resulted in classifying Gerlach in the Moderate Hazard Category (43 points). A summary of factors that contributed to the hazard rating is included in Table 14-3. Primary factors that determined the hazard rating in Gerlach included the presence of many homes with flammable siding materials, limited fire suppression resources, and inadequate address signage.
The wildland-urban interface area in Gerlach is described as an intermix condition. There is no clear line of demarcation between wildland fuels and the residential structures in the community. Most of the residences are located on lots less than one acre in size.
Approximately seventy percent of homes in the interface are built with non-combustible or ignition resistant siding such as medium density fiberboard, stucco, or brick. Almost all of the homes have roofs of non-combustible material such as tile, metal, or composition. Approximately twenty percent of the homes observed have unenclosed balconies, porches, decks, or other architectural features. Unenclosed features on homes can create drafty areas where sparks and embers can be trapped, smolder, ignite, and rapidly spread fire to the house.
Approximately 86 percent of the homes surveyed in Gerlach have landscaping that meets defensible space guidelines to protect the home from damage or loss during a wildfire.
Gerlach has an all-volunteer fire department that reported having eight volunteers at the time of the assessment. The closest resources available to respond to a reported wildland fire are summarized in Table 14-1. The Gerlach volunteer fire department is part of the Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District.
|Type of Resource||Amount of Equipment||Cooperating Partner
|Engine Type 2
Engine Type 4
Water Tender - 4,000 gallons
|Gerlach Volunteer Fire Department
(Truckee Meadows Station 42 - Gerlach)
|Source: Bill Gooch Gerlach Fire Chief|
The Reno Fire Department responds with resources upon request through Reno Dispatch. Additional resources are available upon request from local, state, and federal agencies through mutual aid agreements as described in Section 4.1.1.
Fires are reported in Washoe County through the 911 system, which connects the call with the Washoe County 911 Center. Washoe County 911 notifies the Sierra Front Interagency Dispatch Center of wildland fires. The Sierra Front Interagency Dispatch Center notifies the Volunteer Fire Departments, the Nevada Division of Forestry, the Bureau of Land Management, and the US Forest Service of fires through the use of pagers and radios.
The Gerlach Volunteer Fire Department has access to State Mutual Aid Frequencies, and communications are currently compatible between agencies including the Reno Fire Department 800 meg radios. When the federal agencies go to narrow band digital radios, the volunteers will no longer be able to communicate with the Bureau of Land Management and US Forest Service.
Gerlach has fire hydrants within 1,000 feet of structures with a flow capacity of at least 500 gallons per minute. These hydrants are gravity fed from two water tanks, with a total capacity of 400,000 gallons. The water source is supplied from a natural spring.
Members of the Gerlach Fire Department have received the forty hour wildland training and attend the eight hour annual wildland refresher training through the Bureau of Land Management.
The Gerlach Volunteer Fire Department is funded through the Washoe County General Fund.
The Gerlach area is included in the Washoe County All-Risk Emergency Plan.
The terrain around the community of Gerlach is generally flat with slopes less than eight percent. The prevailing wind direction is from the south and southwest, and high wind speeds are common during summer afternoons.
The vegetative fuels around Gerlach are primarily saltgrass flats interspersed with shrubs that include Bailey’s greasewood, rabbitbrush horsebrush, bud sage, shadscale, cheatgrass, and basin wildrye. Higher shrub densities occur along both sides of the railroad tracks. Fuel loads were estimated to range between less than one and three tons per acre with the fuel hazard ranging between low and moderate.
The worst-case scenario would be a fire starting on a high hazard day along the railroad tracks south of town with a 25 mile per hour southwest wind pushing the fire through to town. This would threaten structures and mobile homes located along the side of the railroad right-of-way. The areas along the railroad tracks have moderate to heavy fuel, with no defensible space between the brush and structures or the power poles. This fire could ignite many structures and cause an electrical power failure as the power poles burn.
The Gerlach community has a moderate ignition risk. The main area of concern is along the railroad tracks due to the heavier fuels, railroad activity, overhead power lines, and lack of defensible space. There is fire history in the area, with lightning as the primary cause.
The responsibility to keep a community fire safe falls not only on the local fire protection district but also on the residents of the community, businesses, and local governments. The recommendations for Gerlach focus primarily on ongoing and additional efforts to create and maintain defensible space, and 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 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 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 Treatments||Remove, reduce, and replace vegetation around homes according to the defensible space guidelines in Appendix E.|
|Community Coordination||Ensure that residential addresses are visible from the road.|
|Utility Company||Fuels Reduction||Reduce and maintain vegetation in power line corridors. Clear dense brush and maintain fifteen feet of clearance around utility poles.|
|Union Pacific Railroad||Fuels Reduction||Clean up lumber and railroad tie debris within the railroad yard; mow the grass to a maximum height of four inches; thin brush throughout the railroad yard to a minimum spacing of two times the height of the shrubs.
Clear vegetation fifteen feet along each side of the tracks within the community.
|Washoe 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.
Facilitate coordinated and collaborative efforts at the County and State levels for consistency in fire safe community planning and enforcement of fire safe ordinances in a unified manner.
|Gerlach Volunteer Fire Department||Defensible Space Treatments||Conduct courtesy inspections of defensible space condition and assist with defensible space treatments on private property.|
|Fuels Reduction||Develop and promote regular brush clearance and biomass disposal, and continue to enforce the open burn permit programs.|
|Community Coordination||Meet annually with the Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District and the Bureau of Land Management to discuss and update pre-attack plans for the community and test radio coverage and compatibility.|
|Public Education||Distribute copies of the publication “Living with Fire” to all property owners.|
Gerlach Wildfire Hazard Rating Summary
Gerlach Fire History