RCI ReportsMineral County Fire Plan

10.0 Walker Lake

10.1 Risk and Hazard Assessment

The community of Walker Lake is located in the western portion of Mineral County along US Highway 95 on the west side of Walker Lake. The population estimate for Walker Lake is 318 (Nevada State Demographer 2003). The hazard assessment resulted in classifying the Walker Lake community in the Moderate Hazard category (45 points). A summary of the values that contribute to this hazard rating is included at the end of this chapter in Table 10-3. The highest risk factors for Walker Lake were the close proximity of structures in the wildland-urban interface area and the limited number of visible residential addresses on approximately one-third of the residences surveyed.

10.1.1 Community Design

Walker Lake demonstrates the characteristics of an intermix wildland-urban interface. Structures are scattered throughout the wildland area with no clear line of demarcation between wildland fuels and the lands and buildings of the community. Nearly all of the buildings are on lot sizes are less than one acre (see Figure 10-1).

  • Roads: US Highway 95, a paved road with a minimum width of 24 feet, is the major transportation route through the community of Walker Lake. Approximately ten percent of the roads exceed a five percent gradient. This contributes to an increase in the hazard rating of a community, as steeper roads can impede the rapid entry of heavy firefighting equipment.
  • Signage: All streets have signs that are easily visible from the road. Addresses are easily visible from the road on approximately two-thirds of the homes. Clear and visible residential addresses are important to aid firefighting personnel in locating homes during low visibility conditions that may occur during a wildland fire.
  • Utilities: Utilities are all above ground. Power line corridors have been properly maintained to minimize wildfire damage to electric utilities and reduce the possibility that sparks created by electric utilities start a fire in adjacent vegetation.

10.1.2 Construction Materials

Approximately three quarters of the homes in the interface are built with combustible siding materials. Many of these homes have siding made of medium-density fiberboard, a material with a propensity to will burn when exposed to high temperatures for a prolonged period of time. The minimal fuel load adjacent to most of these homes reduces the hazard of siding combustion.

The vast majority of the homes have fire resistant roof materials such as composition roofing or metal. Approximately one-half of the homes observed had unenclosed balconies, porches, decks or other architectural features that provide areas where sparks and embers can smolder and create drafts that rapidly spread fire if the home ignites.

10.1.3 Defensible Space

Nearly all of the homes assessed had landscaping that would meet the minimum defensible space requirement to help protect the home from damage or loss during a wildfire. See the Defensible Space Guidelines and the Homeowner’s Annual Checklist in Appendix D for detailed information on defensible space.

10.1.4 Suppression Capabilities

Wildfire Protection Resources

The community of Walker Lake is protected by the Walker Lake Volunteer Fire Department with eight active volunteers. Mineral County Fire Department also responds to all calls. Additional resources are available from DZHC Fire and Emergency Services at the Hawthorne Army Depot, and the Bureau of Land Management through the Sierra Front Interagency Dispatch Center in Minden, Nevada. Table 10-1 lists the types of wildfire resources, cooperating partners and equipment available to Walker Lake to a reported wildland fire.

Table 10-1. Walker Lake Wildfire Suppression Resources
Response Time Type of Resources Amount of Equipment Cooperating Partner
(Resource Location)
10 - 30 minutes Engine
Rescue Vehicle w/ 250 gal. water tank
Brush Truck
Water Tender
Walker Lake VFD (Walker Lake)

Mineral County FD (Hawthorne)

DZHC Fire & Emergency Services (Hawthorne Army Depot)
1 - 2 hours Engine
Air Tanker
Hand Crew
NDF and BLM (Closest available resources dispatched from Sierra Front Interagency Dispatch, Minden)
2+ hours     NDF and BLM (Closest available resources dispatched from Sierra Front Interagency Dispatch, Minden)
Source: Personal communication with Chief Craig Nixon, Mineral County Fire Department.

Water Sources and Infrastructure

Water availability for fire suppression in Walker Lake includes:

  • Community wells
  • 1,124 gpm hydrants within 500 feet of structures
  • One water storage tank
  • Walker Lake (helicopter dip site and drafting location)

The water system relies on gravity fed and electrical pumps. There is no backup emergency generator to run the pumps.

The existing water delivery system meets National Fire Protection Association codes and standards for fire protection.

Detection and Communication

Fires are reported in the Walker Lake area through:

  • 911 calls

Fires are communicated to fire response personnel through the use of:

  • Fire Dispatch through the Mineral County Fire Department at the Hawthorne Fire Station
  • Radios using the following frequencies: primary-154.415; secondary-153.770
  • Pagers

Walker Lake relies on the Mineral County Fire Department for radio dispatch information.

Fire Protection Personnel Qualifications

All volunteer firefighters are trained to the State of Nevada entry-level firefighter qualifications. Wildland Fire training is scheduled for July of 2004. The Walker Lake VFD does not utilize the Red Card system for individual qualifications. A Red Card certification is part of a fire qualifications management system used by many state and all federal wildland fire management agencies to indicate an individual’s qualifications to fight wildland fires.

Work Load

The Walker Lake Volunteer Fire Department responded to 33 calls in 2003:

  • Emergency medical calls 30
  • Wildland/brush fire call 1
  • Other calls 2

Financial Support

Financial support for the Walker Lake Volunteer Fire Department comes from the Mineral County General Fund. Mineral County is currently at the property tax cap set by Statute and has no ability to raise additional taxes. Increases in local funding for fire suppression can only occur if there are increases in revenues or reductions in other county services.

Community Preparedness

The community of Walker Lake is included in Mineral County’s emergency plan, disaster plan, emergency evacuation plan, and mitigation plan. The County Fire Chief or the Chairman of the Board of County Commissioners is authorized to activate the emergency evacuation plan. The Mineral County Fire Department reviews development plans for the community.

10.1.5 Factors Affecting Fire Behavior

The vegetation fuel density in the community of Walker Lake interface area is classified as light, with densities estimated at one quarter ton per acre. Fuels in the community consist primarily of shadcale, spiny menodora (Menodora spinescens), Bailey’s greasewood, Nevada ephedra (Ephedra nevadensis), galleta grass (Hilaria jamesii), and Indian ricegrass.

Predominant winds are downslope from the south/southwest in the later afternoon. Slopes in the area vary from 10 to 20 percent with an east aspect. There are narrow mountain canyons directly west of the community.

10.1.6 Fire Behavior Worst Case Scenario

The worst-case scenario for the community of Walker Lake would begin with a fire moving into the community from the south on a high hazard day in the summer. If local fire crews are unable to control the fire and if fire resources from neighboring communities were unavailable, the fire could spread to structures in the community.

10.1.7 Ignition Risk Assessment

The Risk Assessment resulted in assigning Walker Lake a low ignition risk rating. Although there is an ignition record for the area directly west of the townsite, there is no significant wildfire history in the Bureau of Land Management administered area surrounding Walker Lake, likely due to the low, sparse brush in and around the community. Ignition risks fall into two categories - lightning and human caused. Human caused ignitions can come from a variety of sources: fires started along highways and county roads from burning material thrown out of vehicle windows or ignited during auto accidents; off-road vehicles; railroads; arcing powerlines; agricultural fires; ditch burning; debris burning in piles or burn barrels; matches, and fireworks are a few examples of ignition sources for human caused wildfires.

10.2 Risk and Hazard Reduction Recommendations, Roles, and Responsibilities

The Walker Lake Risk Reduction Recommendations focus on defensible space and homeowner responsibilities. Other recommendations pertain to community coordination efforts that could be undertaken to enhance the fire safe nature of Walker Lake. The recommendations are detailed below and summarized in Table 10-2.

10.2.1 Defensible Space Treatments

Following are some general guidelines for improving defensible space around residences and structures in the community.

Property Owner Responsibilities

  • Remove, reduce, and replace vegetation around homes according to the guidelines in Appendix D. This area should be kept:
    • Lean: There are only small amounts of flammable vegetation,
    • Clean: There is no accumulation of dead vegetation or other flammable debris,
    • Green: Existing plants are healthy and green during the fire season.
  • Maintain the defensible space condition as needed.
  • Prevent cheatgrass growth by annual applications of pre-emergent herbicides in the late fall and/or early spring, applied immediately before rainfall, or applied and followed by a light watering. In the absence of chemical control, use a weed eater or mower to effectively remove the green plants. It is important to mow prior to seed maturity and to rake and remove the cut material to eliminate the fuel hazard.
  • Clear all vegetation and combustible materials around propane tanks for a minimum distance of 10 feet.
  • Remove or clean up abandoned structures.

10.2.2 Community Coordination

Coordination among local, state and federal fire suppression agencies is important in the day-to-day fire prevention activities and becomes critical in the event of a wildland fire. During a fire event, firefighters from other communities and states may be dispatched to areas they have never been before. The following recommendations should be implemented in Walker Lake that relate to Community Coordination.

Property Owner Responsibilities

  • Form a local chapter of the Nevada Fire Safe Council. The Nevada Fire Safe Council proposes to work on solutions that reduce the risk of loss of lives and property from wildfires in Nevada’s communities. Through the establishment of a local Chapter, communities become part of a large information-sharing network that receives notifications of programs and funding opportunities for fire mitigation projects such as those listed in this report. The Nevada Fire Safe Council will accept and manage grants and contracts on the Chapter’s behalf through its non-profit status. The Nevada Fire Safe Council provides assistance and support to communities to complete fire safe plans, set priorities, educate and train community members and promote success stories of its members. For more information on forming a chapter, contact:

    Nevada Fire Safe Council
    1187 Charles Drive
    Reno, Nevada 89509
    (775) 322-2413

10.2.3 Public Education

Public education on making communities more fire safe is critical. Informed community members who will take the initiative required to lead efforts of a scale sufficient to effectively reduce the threat that wildland fires present to the entire interface community.

Walker Lake Volunteer Fire Department Responsibilities

  • 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, (775) 784-4848.

10.3 Summary of Recommendations

Table 10-2. Walker Lake Wildfire Risk/Hazard Reduction Priority Recommendations
Recommendation Description
Property Owners Remove, reduce, and replace vegetation according to the defensible space guidelines in Appendix D.
Maintain defensible space.
Control cheatgrass in the late fall and/or early spring with pre-emergent herbicide applied immediately before rainfall, or mow and rake to reduce the vegetation fuel hazard.
Clear all vegetation and combustible materials around above ground fuel tanks for a minimum distance of 10 feet.
Remove or clean up abandoned structures.
Form a local chapter of the Nevada Fire Safe Council.
Walker Lake VFD Distribute copies of the publication ”Living with Fire” to all property owners.

Figure 10-1

Fire History and Suppression Resources for the Community of Walker Lake.

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Table 10-3

Walker Lake Wildfire Hazard Ratings Summary