Winter drought sets the stage for possible wildfires

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Winter drought sets the stage for possible wildfires

Washoe_drive_fire

As drought conditions persist, winter wildfires are increasingly a concern for those in Northern Nevada and Tahoe.

As drought conditions persist, winter wildfires are increasingly a concern for those in Northern Nevada and Tahoe. Red flag warnings have been in effect this week.

Ed Smith with the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension calls this winter déjà vu.

"It's starting to shape up like it did in the early winter of 2011."

That was the year of the Washoe Drive Fire, among others, which destroyed dozens of homes in the valley.

The cause: someone improperly disposing of fireplace ashes. Winter wildfires often involve humans, either directly or indirectly, but Smith says a dry winter can set the stage for such fires to grow rapidly; that's because there are things that act as fuels during this time of year that otherwise don't. Take, for example, leaves, which in the summer are attached to branches and hold moisture.

"In the wintertime, though, those same plants, those leaves are now on the ground and they're dry, so the fire can burn through these areas, burning through these dead leaves."

Smith says lawns can be an effective firebreak in the summer fire season because they're often irrigated--that's not the case in winter, when yards are dried out and can catch fire from a small ember, especially when littered with dead leaves.

Even if the region does receive some snow in the coming months, Smith says that won't necessarily do much to stifle a possible wildfire.

"Vegetation, wildland vegetation we have right now, is drought stressed and having a little bit of snow right now doesn't help because a lot of the shrubs are dormant, so they're not even in a situation where they can take up moisture, even if they have it."

Smith recommends removing dead leaves, properly disposing of ashes and not storing branches on the porch. For more information on defensible space, visit livingwithfire.info. Residents of Washoe County can also take advantage of the ash can program.