RCI ReportsStorey County Fire Plan

Executive Summary

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 10-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 for the communities within Storey County, Nevada that were identified in the 2001 Federal Register list of communities that are located within the vicinity of federal lands that are most vulnerable to the threat of wildfire. The communities assessed in Storey County are listed in Table 1-1.

The Nevada Fire Safe Council contracted with Resource Concepts, Inc. (RCI) to assemble a project team of experts in the fields of fire behavior and suppression, natural resource ecology, and geographic information systems (GIS) for completion of the wildfire risk assessment for each Storey County community listed in the Federal Register. The RCI Project Team spent four days inventorying conditions in Storey County and completing the primary data collection and verification portions of the risk assessment.

This report describes in detail the data and information collected, analyzed, and considered during the assessment of each community. The general results are summarized in Table 1-1. Five primary factors that affect potential fire hazard were assessed to arrive at the community hazard assessment score. These factors included 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 Storey County communities was obtained from local Fire Chiefs and local Fire Management Officers. The RCI Project Team Fire Specialist assigned an ignition risk rating for each community of low, moderate, or high. The rating is based upon historical ignition patterns, the opinions of local, state, and federal fire agency personnel, community field visits, and the fire specialist’s professional judgment based on experience with wildland fire ignitions in Nevada.

Table 1-1. Community Risk and Hazard Assessment Results
Community Interface Condition Interface Fuel Hazard Condition Ignition Risk Rating Community Hazard Rating
Gold Hill Intermix Moderate to High High High
Lockwood Classic Interface Low Low Moderate
Six Mile Intermix Low Low Moderate
Virginia City Intermix Moderate to High High High
Virginia Highlands Intermix Moderate to Extreme High Extreme
Ratings for the Virginia Highlands are adapted from the 2002 RCI Report and field visits in 2004.

Existing Situation

There is high to extreme potential for a catastrophic wildfire in the wildland-urban interface areas of Virginia City, Gold Hill, and the Virginia Highlands. These elevated hazard ratings are primarily attributed to the moderate to extreme fuel loading that are often in volatile pinyon-juniper fuel types, inadequate defensible space, combustible building materials, and steep slopes. These circumstances also contribute to extremely dangerous conditions for firefighters. However, for Lockwood and Six Mile, the low vegetation density somewhat lowers the potential for a destructive wildfire.

Many homeowners in Storey County have been aggressive in establishing and maintaining appropriate defensible space around their residences. The Fire Safe Highlands Coalition and the Storey County Fire Department in the Virginia Highlands provide examples of collaborative efforts for safe and effective biomass removal.


Recommendations in this report focus primarily on efforts that homeowners can initiate and implement to enhance the fire safe nature of their communities. Recommendations for creating defensible space prescribed within this report are presented to homeowners in each community who have not yet reduced fuels on their private property. Defensible space is the homeowner’s responsibility and it is an essential, priority defense mechanism for saving lives and property during a catastrophic wildland fire.

In the future, Storey County must take a proactive stance on residential development in heavy fuel, high-density vegetation areas. Local ordinances should be revised to provide Storey County Fire Department the authority to require defensible space treatment on all developed and undeveloped lots within the interface areas and to be able to assess property owners for defensible space treatment if the landowner fails to comply with the ordinance requirements. Ordinances should be adopted to ensure that all new development meets the National Fire Code and Standards and requires developers to implement and maintain adequate fuel reduction treatments as a condition of new subdivision approval.

Recommendations within this report were also formulated to mitigate the hazardous conditions for each problem area that was identified. The most hazardous areas are those within heavy pinyon-juniper fuels. The recommendations for a widely needed treatment to reduce the vegetative fuel load in the interface area are directed to the Storey County Fire Department, the Nevada Division of Forestry, Nevada Department of Transportation, and individual property owners. The recommended approach, known as "thinning from below," involves removal of smaller trees, brush, and dead and down materials to achieve the desired tree densities that will effectively minimize the hazardous ground fuels that contribute to crown fire ignitions. Implementation of the prescribed treatments will also reduce competition among the residual trees for sunlight, water, and space, thus improving forest health. The reestablishment of native grasses and fire-resistant adapted species in order to combat the invasion of cheatgrass, a highly ignitable and combustible fuel, will also mitigate the fire hazard in respective areas.

Excessive amounts of biomass (vegetative fuel) generated from fuel reduction treatments in these Storey County communities will need to be chipped, burned, or removed from the treated areas to meet the required fuel load reduction.

Specific Recommendations for Fuel Reductions Treatments

Gold Hill:

  • Promote the establishment and maintenance of defensible space around homes and outbuildings in the community. Gold Hill is located near the head of Gold Canyon, an area conducive to upslope winds capable of rapidly carrying a fire through the existing high hazard fuels into residential areas while suppression resources from outside the community are in route.
  • Implement fuels reduction treatment to protect residences and community infrastructure on approximately 8.5 acres in the vicinity of the water treatment facility, west of Highway 342, between Gold Hill and Virginia City. The specific location for the fuel reduction treatment is shown in Figure 5-1 of this report.

Virginia City:

  • Implement fuels reduction treatment on approximately 63 acres to the west side of the city near Summit Street. The specific location for the fuel reduction treatment is shown in Figure 8-1 of this report.
  • Create approximately 6,000 lineal feet of fuelbreak by extending the vegetation removal treatment along the existing power line road to Ophir Grade Road north to the junction of Stewart and Summit Streets on the west side of town. The specific location for this fuelbreak improvement is shown in Figure 8-1 of this report.

Virginia Highlands:

  • A total of 116,550 lineal feet (approximately 250-500 acres) of fuelbreak is recommended for the Virginia Highlands area. The specific locations and priority breakdown for these fuelbreaks are shown in Figure 9-2 of this report. The local chapter of the Nevada Fire Safe Council must continue to emphasize the importance of internal fuelbreaks to property owners in the community as a necessary prerequisite to enhancing fire protection and they must continue to implement recommended fuel reduction treatments in the interior of the community.

To be most effective, fire safe practices need to be implemented on a community-wide basis. There is no guarantee that a wildfire will not occur in any of these communities, even if all of the recommendations in this report are implemented. Nonetheless, public awareness, neighbors helping neighbors, and concerned, proactive individuals setting examples for others to follow are among the most important initiatives involved in reducing the risk of wildfire ignition and managing the hazards inherent in wildland-urban interface areas.