ELKO — Typically, seasonal wildland firefighters mark the end of September to hang up their fire gear.
But less than a year after the Dunphy Complex charred more than 163,000 acres of northeastern Nevada burning well into October, coupled with this year’s heat and drought, the Northeast Nevada Interagency fire crew is extending its calendar two additional weeks after the fiscal year ends Sunday.
“Based on what we’ve seen of weather trends and fuel conditions, we asked for an extension,” said Dylan Rader, BLM Elko District acting fire management officer.
The ground has been dry, as has vital sage grouse habitat. In fires so far this year, about 99,000 acres of preliminary priority habitat burned.
Preserving sage grouse habitat may help avoid the looming possibility of adding the bird to the endangered species list in the coming years.
“We’re still as dry right now as we were in August,” Rader said. Parched sagebrush, pinyon-juniper and cheatgrass combusts readily and plant life moisture was at a record low through September, according to Rader.
“It’s basically standing dead,” he said.
No imminent lighting storms appear to be threatening northeastern Nevada’s land, Radar said, but as a precaution, the fire team is remaining alert.
“The National Weather Service does a great job of forecasting. We obviously rely on their expertise,” Rader said.
The BLM wanted to remind the public that fire restrictions are still in place.
“The communities have done a good job. We’ve seen a sharp decrease in human-caused fires,” Rader said. “As soon as we see the weather change, we’ll lift those restrictions.”
The fire season extension will allow staffing on six engines, a helicopter and the helitack crew.
At its peak, the BLM’s fire team is composed of about 85 personnel. Of those, about 30 people are seasonal May to September. Another 35 employees are classified as career seasonal firefighters. These individuals work on BLM projects and in various capacities, but help with fire suppression when needed.
The Northeast Nevada Interagency fire team, consisting of BLM, U.S. Forest Service, Nevada Division of Forestry and volunteer fire departments in Elko and Eureka counties, successfully controlled 253 fires so far this season, according to the BLM Elko District office.
A total of 151,435 acres were burned. Of that, 58,477 acres were BLM administered public lands; 57,101 acres were private lands; 29,656 acres were Forest Service administered lands; and 6,201 acres were on Bureau of Indian Affairs tribal trust lands.
The Willow Fire and Bull Run Complex fires (Mustang, Brown’s Gulch, Lime, Homer and McCall) which burned the first two weeks of August, were responsible for a majority of the acres burned, according to BLM.
Though some fires took several days to control, more than 94 percent of the 253 fires in the district were successfully contained and controlled during initial attack.
Lighting-caused fires accounted for 58 percent of the total fires this season and 98 percent of total acreage burned.
Human-caused fires accounted for 42 percent of the fires but less than two percent of total acreage burned, BLM said.