RCI ReportsPershing County Fire Plan

5.0 Grass Valley

5.1 Risk and Hazard Assessment

Grass Valley is located in northeastern portion of Pershing County (See Figure 5-1). The town is situated in a valley with agricultural lands to the south. There are approximately 400 residences in Grass Valley. The risk and hazard assessment resulted in classifying Grass Valley, as a whole, in the Moderate Hazard category (45 points). This score is attributed primarily to the sparse vegetation surrounding the community, the buffer of agricultural land to the south, and the fire-safe construction of many of the structures in the interface area. The specific findings for each of the Wildland Fire Assessment parameters are reported below. Also included is a description of the predicted fire behavior and the worst-case fire scenario for Grass Valley. The community risk/hazard assessment summary sheet is provided at the end of this section.

5.1.1 Community Design

The interface condition surrounding Grass Valley is classified as an intermix interface condition. Most of the residences are clustered together in the northern end of the community. The southern end of the community consists of scattered homes and farmland. Lot sizes vary widely, from less than one acre to ten acres in size, although larger parcels of land are more common to the south. Structure spacing varies from very close to widely dispersed structures surrounded by sizeable expanses of vacant land.

  • Roads: The primary access route in and out of Grass Valley is State Route 294 (Grass Valley Road). This road is unpaved with a typical width of 20 to 24 feet, and allows adequate room for fire suppression equipment to maneuver.

All of the roads in the community are graded dirt roads. These roads typically have a gradient of less than five percent and provide adequate room for fire suppression equipment.

  • Signage: Street signs are present and visible along most streets. Residential addresses are visible on about two-thirds of the homes surveyed. Clear and visible signage is present throughout Grass Valley and is sufficient to assist fire suppression personnel in locating residences during conditions of poor visibility that may exist during a wildland fire.
  • Utilities: All electrical power utilities are above ground. Power lines have been properly maintained to minimize the possibility of sparking power lines starting fires in nearby vegetation during windstorms.

5.1.2 Construction Materials

All of the homes observed in the interface area are built with fire resistant roof and siding materials. Roof materials include composition roofing, metal, and tile. About half of the homes have unenclosed balconies, porches, decks or other architectural features that can create drafts and provide areas where sparks and embers can smolder and rapidly spread fire to the home itself.

5.1.3 Defensible Space

The vast majority of the homes have landscaping that would meet the defensible space requirement to protect the home from damage or risk of loss during a wildfire.

5.1.4 Suppression Capabilities

Wildfire Protection Resources

Grass Valley is provided fire protection by the 16-member all-volunteer Grass Valley Volunteer Fire Department. It was noted by the Fire Chief that the initial response to a wildland fire by volunteers could vary based on the day of the week and time of day of the fire. Some volunteers could be unable to respond immediately to fire calls during typical working hours.

Table 5-1. Grass Valley Wildfire Resources, Cooperating Partners and Equipment Available
Response Time Type of Equipment Amount of Equipment Cooperating Partner
(Resource Location)
10- 30 minutes Engine
Brush Truck
Water Tender
(4,000 gal.)
Grass Valley VFD
30 minutes Type II Engine
Water Tender
Imlay VFD (Imlay)
1-2 hours Engine 1 Winnemucca RFD (Winnemucca)
1-2hours Brush Truck
Water Tender
Command Vehicle
Lovelock VFD (Lovelock)
1-2 hours Engine 1 Rye Patch VFD (Rye Patch)
Source: Jim Mahaffry and Susan Mahaffry, pers. comm. Feb. 11, 2004; Dora Wren, email comm., May 19, 2004.

Water Sources and Infrastructure

Water availability for fire suppression resources for Grass Valley include:

  • Two community wells
  • 500 gpm hydrants within 1,000 feet of structures
  • 500 gpm hydrants 300 feet apart in Dutchman Acres Development
  • Local ponds that can be used as a drafting or dip site with the permission of the property owner

The water system relies on electrical pumps. There is a backup emergency generator to run the pumps; the owner of the water system is responsible for generator maintenance.

Fire Protection Personnel Qualifications

All volunteer firefighters are trained to a minimum of State Fire Marshal entry-level firefighter qualifications and are working towards State Fire Marshal firefighter I qualifications. Firefighters have also taken a 40-hour basic wildland firefighting course with an eight-hour annual refresher course. The Grass Valley Volunteer Fire Department does not utilize the Red Card certification 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 that indicates an individual is qualified to fight wildland fires.

Work Load

The Grass Valley Volunteer Fire Department responded to 26 calls in 2003.

  • 20 Wildland /brush fire calls
  • 6 Other calls

Financial Support

Financial support for the Grass Valley Fire Department comes primarily from the Pershing County General Fund. The Fire Department also pursues grant funding when available. Pershing County has very limited financial resources. Property and sales tax rates are limited by Nevada Revised Statutes. Overlapping tax rates in Lovelock are currently at the property tax cap set by Statute. Additional countywide taxes cannot be raised without special consideration to the tax rate situation in Lovelock. Unless a special entity such as a Fire Protection District is formed, increases in funding for fire suppression in areas such as Grass Valley will occur only if there are increases in revenues or reductions in other county services.

Community Preparedness

Pershing County has an active Local Emergency Planning Committee and has adopted an all-risk, multi-agency emergency plan. The plan is periodically updated and was last revised in 2003.

The Grass Valley Volunteer Fire Department does not review development plans.

The BLM also has a pre-attack plan for the area. This plan is updated annually prior to the start of each fire season.

5.1.5 Factors Affecting Fire Behavior

The vegetative fuel density in the Grass Valley interface area varies from light to medium. Light fuels on the south and southeastern edge of the community consists primarily of Bailey’s greasewood (Sarcobatus vermiculatus var. baileyi), bud sagebrush (Picrothamnus desertorum), cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum), rabbitbrush (Ericameria sp.), and Russian thistle (Salsola kali). Fuel density in this area was estimated to be less than one ton per acre. This section of the valley has burned in previous years, resulting in extensive cheatgrass-dominated areas.

Fuel on the north and western edge of the community is of medium density with the same vegetation types as previously described for the southern and southeastern portions of the community. As this area has not experienced recent wildland fire activity, the vegetation density was estimated to range from one to three tons per acre.

Agricultural lands, which can provide some protection from wildfire, lie to the south of the community.

The terrain is relatively flat with a minimal slope of five percent or less. The community is situated with a south and west aspect, and the predominant wind is from the south/southwest in the late afternoon.

5.1.6 Fire Behavior Worst-Case Scenario

The worst-case scenario of a major wildland fire in the area surrounding Grass Valley would occur on a high hazard day during a dry lightning storm. An ignition close to the southern edge of town in the mid-afternoon could be pushed towards the community by winds out of the southwest. If the fire began during normal working hours, the limited or delayed response by volunteer firefighters could lead to uncontrolled growth of the fire. The situation would be worsened if mutual aid resources were unavailable or on assignment to an emergency situation elsewhere.

5.1.7 Risk Assessment

While the risk of fire occurrence in Grass Valley is high, the hazard to the community is low due to the sparse, low brush in and around the intermixed interface area and the irrigated agricultural lands to the south.

The following factors pose the greatest risks for unintended wildland fire ignition:

  • Lightning
  • State Highway Corridor
  • Powerline Corridors
  • Children with Matches
  • Off-Road Vehicle Use

5.2 Risk Reduction Recommendations, Roles and Responsibilities

Grass Valley has taken steps to begin reducing the risk of wildland fire in their community. Members of the volunteer fire department have taken a 40-hour basic wildland firefighting class with an annual eight-hour refresher course. A public education program in the form of a Family Safety Day that included a fire safety component was held in 2003.

The responsibility to keep a community fire safe falls not only on the local fire department but also on the residents of the community, businesses, and local governments. The Grass Valley Risk/Hazard Reduction Recommendations focus primarily on additional efforts that can be taken by community members and public agencies to increase wildland fire safety through the reduction of hazardous fuels. Other recommendations pertain to community coordination and public education efforts that could enhance fire safety in Grass Valley. The recommendations are detailed below and summarized in Table 5-2.

5.2.1 Defensible Space Treatments

General guidelines for improving defensible space around residences and structures in the community are described below.

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 this defensible space as needed to keep the space lean, clean, and green.
  • Where cheatgrass has become dominant within the defensible space it should be mowed prior to seed set or treated with a pre-emergent herbicide. Mowing may need to be repeated the following year to ensure that the seed bank of unwanted grasses has been depleted. Refer to Appendix I for approved seed mixes and planting guidelines than can be used in conjunction with the physical removal of this annual grass.
  • Remove debris and woodpiles from within the defensible space.
  • Spark arrestors should be installed on chimneys.
  • Abandoned vehicles, trailers, and structures should be removed or cleaned up.

5.2.2 Fuels Reduction Treatments

Following are some general fuel reduction treatments that should be implemented to reduce the potential fire hazard.

Grass Valley Volunteer Fire Department Responsibilities

  • Remove or mow vegetation within 10 feet of all fire hydrants to improve visibility and access to fire personnel.

Utility Company Responsibilities

  • Maintain a defensible space clear of all vegetation a minimum 30 feet from the fencelines of all electrical transfer stations.

Pershing County Responsibilities

  • Reduce vegetation by mowing along all county roads to reduce ignition risk and create a firebreak. Shoulder strips should be mowed 20 feet wide from edge of pavement and to a height of not more than four inches on both sides of the road.

5.2.3 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. This is particularly true in areas like Grass Valley that have limited fire suppression resources and will most likely be dependent on outside agencies in the event of a catastrophic wildland fire. The following recommendations should be implemented in Grass Valley that relate to Community Coordination.

Property Owner Responsibilities

  • Form a local chapter of the Nevada Fire Safe Council. The Nevada Fire Safe Council has the purpose of working on solutions to reduce the loss of lives and property from the threat of fire in Nevada’s communities. Through the establishment of a local Chapter, local communities will have access to the information network that receives notifications of programs and funding opportunities for fire mitigation projects such as those listed in this report and will become part of a large network for information sharing . 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 will provide assistance and support to communities to complete fire safe plans, set priorities, educate and train community members and promote success stories of its members. To form a local Chapter or for more information, contact the Nevada Fire Safe Council, PO Box 2724, Carson City, NV 89702, telephone (775) 884-4455.
  • Make sure residential addresses are visible from the road. Address numbers should be at least four inches high and fire resistant. Improving visibility of addresses make navigation in unfamiliar neighborhoods easier for response personnel during a wildland fire.

Grass Valley Volunteer Fire Department Responsibilities

  • Meet annually with the BLM to discuss their pre-attack plan for the community.
  • Keep current on wildland fire training.
  • Review development plans for fire safe components.

Pershing County Responsibilities

  • Allow burning only under a permit process or on designated community burn days. See Appendix H for a sample burn permit.
  • Incorporate NDF Firesafe Community Recommendations (See Appendix F) in development plan reviews.
  • As the community of Grass Valley grows beyond the Pershing/Humboldt county line, strategies for collecting revenue to pay for the anticipated increase in suppression activities for Grass Valley should be investigated. The formation of a General Improvement District via NRS 318, or the establishment of a Fire Protection District via NRS 473 or NRS 474 allows for the assessment of an ad valorum property tax. Additionally, once the District is approved by the state legislature, it is eligible to request additional funds through state sales tax revenues (CTX, formerly SCCRT).

5.2.4 Public Education

Public education about how to become more fire safe is critical in remote communities with limited fire suppression resources such as Grass Valley.

Grass Valley Volunteer Fire Department Responsibilities

  • Continue the Family Day public education activities. Broaden the scope to include a “Community Pride” program for cleaning up weeds and debris in the community, and educational events specific to community fire awareness.
  • Consider cooperating with local BLM office (Winnemucca) to expand public education opportunities for school-aged children and adults.
  • 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.

5.3 Summary of Recommendations

Table 5-2. Priority Recommendations to reduce wildfire risks in the Grass Valley Area
Responsible Party recommendation Description
Property Owners Remove, reduce, and replace vegetation around homes according to the defensible space guidelines in Appendix G.
Maintain defensible space.
Remove cheatgrass.
Remove debris and wood piles within the defensible space.
Install spark arrestors on chimneys.
Remove or clean up abandoned vehicles, trailers, and structures.
Form a local chapter of the Nevada Fire Safe Council.
Post addresses for visibility from roads.
Utility Company Clear all vegetation within 30 feet of the fence around all electrical transfer stations.
Grass Valley VFD Clear weeds within 10 feet of all fire hydrants.
Meet with the BLM annually to discuss their pre-attack plan.
Keep current on wildland fire training
Distribute copies of the publication “Living with Fire” to all property owners.
Continue “Community Pride” program for cleaning up weeds and debris in town and promoting community fire awareness.
Review development plans for fire safe components.
Pershing County Clear vegetation 20 feet from the edge of pavement along both sides of all county roads.
Allow burning only under a permit process or on designated community burn days.
Consider the formation of a Fire Protection District for the Grass Valley area.

Table 5-3

Grass Valley Wildfire Risk/Hazard Assessment Summary Sheet

Figure 5-1

Suppression Resources and Fire History for the Community of Grass Valley

small | large | x-large