RCI Reportswashoe County Fire Plan

14.0 Gerlach

14.1 Risk and Hazard Assessment

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.

14.1.1 Community Design

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.

  • Access: State Route 447 and State Route 34 are the primary transportation routes providing access to the community. These roads are greater than 24 feet wide and provide adequate space for two-way vehicular travel and for fire suppression equipment to maneuver.
  • Signage: Most street signs are easily visible, however only 56 percent of residential addresses are easily visible from the road. Clear and visible street signs and residential addresses are important in locating homes during low visibility conditions that occur during a wildfire.
  • Utilities: All utilities are above ground. Power lines have not been properly maintained to minimize the possibility that arcing may start fires in nearby vegetation. In some cases the recommended ten feet of vegetation clearance does not exist around propane tanks.

14.1.2 Construction Materials

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.

14.1.3 Defensible Space

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.

14.1.4 Suppression Capabilities

Wildfire Protection Resources

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.

Table 14-1. Gerlach Initial Attack Wildfire Suppression Resources
Type of Resource Amount of Equipment Cooperating Partner
(Resource Location)
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.

Detection and Communication

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.

Water Sources and Infrastructure

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.

Fire Protection Personnel Qualifications

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.

Financial Support

The Gerlach Volunteer Fire Department is funded through the Washoe County General Fund.

Community Preparedness

The Gerlach area is included in the Washoe County All-Risk Emergency Plan.

14.1.5 Factors Affecting Fire Behavior

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.

14.1.6 Fire Behavior Worst-Case Scenario

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.

14.1.7 Ignition Risk Assessment

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.

14.2 Risk and Hazard Reduction Recommendations

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.

14.2.1 Defensible Space Treatments

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.

Property Owner Recommendations

  • Remove, reduce, and replace vegetation to create defensible space around homes according to the guidelines in Appendix E. 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.
  • Where cheatgrass has become dominant within the defensible space zone, areas should be mowed prior to seed maturity or treated with an application of a pre-emergent herbicide.[10] Treatments may need to be repeated for several years to ensure that the seed bank of unwanted annual grass seeds has been depleted. Refer to Appendix E for a recommended seed mixture and planting guidelines that can be used in conjunction with cheatgrass removal.
  • Store firewood a minimum distance of thirty feet from structures.
  • Clear all dead plant material and combustible materials a minimum of five feet from the exterior of all structures.
  • Mow or remove brush growing against fences in the community. The minimum distance for clearance should be ten feet in grass and 25 feet in brush.
  • Enclose areas under wood decks and porches when possible or maintain these areas to be free of weeds and other flammable debris. Box in eves and cover ventilation openings with very fine metal wire mesh to prevent embers from entering the attic and crawl spaces.
  • Clear all vegetation and combustible materials around propane tanks for a minimum of ten feet.
  • Clear weeds and brush to a width of ten feet along both sides of the driveways.
  • Maintain a minimum clearance of thirty feet from the crown of trees that remain within the defensible space zone. Keep this area free of smaller trees, shrubs, and other ladder fuels.
  • Trim and remove tree branches a minimum of four feet from the ground to reduce ladder fuels on all deciduous and coniferous trees within the defensible space zone. Prune all dead and diseased branches.
  • Prune all tree branches to a minimum distance of fifteen feet from buildings, paying special attention around chimneys.
  • Mow grass within the defensible space zone to maintain a maximum height of four inches.
  • Thin sagebrush and other shrubs to a spacing between shrubs that is equal to twice the shrub height.
  • Immediately dispose of cleared vegetation when implementing defensible space treatments. This material dries quickly and poses a fire hazard if left on site.
  • Where possible, irrigate all trees and large shrubs that remain in close proximity to structures to increase their fire resiliency. This is especially important during drought conditions.
  • Remove or board up abandoned trailers and structures to prevent sparks from entering and igniting the structure.

Gerlach Volunteer Fire Department Recommendation

  • Conduct courtesy inspections of home defensible space measures.

14.2.2 Fuels Reduction Treatments

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.

Utility Company Recommendation

  • Reduce and remove vegetation to maintain fifteen feet of clearance around power poles and clear the dense brush from under power lines especially in the area between the railroad tracks and structures.

Union Pacific Railroad Recommendations

  • Clean up lumber and railroad tie debris within the railroad yard.
  • Mow the grass to maximum height of four inches and thin the brush to a minimum spacing of two times the shrub height throughout the railroad yard.
  • Clear vegetation within fifteen feet of each side of the tracks within the community.

Gerlach Volunteer Fire Department Recommendation

  • Develop and promote a program for cleaning weeds and debris from around structures and fences in the community and for biomass disposal. Continue to enforce the permit process for open burning.

14.2.3 Community Coordination

Property Owner Recommendations

  • Ensure that residential addresses are visible from the road. Address characters should be at least four inches high, reflective, and composed of non-flammable material. Improving visibility of addresses will make it easier for those unfamiliar with the area to navigate under smoky conditions caused by a wildland fire.

Gerlach Volunteer Fire Department Recommendation

  • Meet annually with the Truckee Meadows Fire District and Bureau of Land Management to review pre-attack plans and to coordinate firefighting resources and response procedures including testing radio compatibility and coverage. Upgrade radios to new narrowband/digital technologies as needed to maintain communications with the federal agencies.

Washoe County Recommendations

  • 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. Refer to Appendix F for an example of fire safe recommendations for planning new developments.
  • 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.

14.2.4 Public Education

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.

Gerlach Volunteer Fire Department Recommendation

  • 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.

14.3 Summary of Recommendations

Table 14-2. Gerlach Priority Recommendations to Reduce Wildfire Risks and Hazards
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.

Table 14-3

Gerlach Wildfire Hazard Rating Summary

Figure 14-1

Gerlach Fire History

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