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NV Energy, Nevada Officials Create Fuel Break After Tamarack Fire Left 1,300 Residents Without Power

There’s a 20-foot dirt path covered with branches and twigs from vegetation that was removed underneath wooden power poles. The path is at the base of a hill that’s covered in vegetation with a clean line from where the plants were removed.
Lucia Starbuck
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KUNR Public Radio
NV Energy contracted firefighting personnel to remove sagebrush and other vegetation to create a fuel break in case the Caldor Fire encroached on the community along Foothill Road in Gardnerville, Nev., on Sept. 10, 2021.

The Tamarack Fire left roughly 1,300 Nevadans without power in late July after destroying power poles. Since then, the state and its public utility company have been working to keep that from happening again.

Jesse Murray stood on freshly dug dirt. Roots from sagebrush were sticking out of the ground from where the bushes were dragged away.

Murray is in a neon yellow vest, holding a black tablet. He’s standing next to a woman with the Nevada Division of Forestry. Behind them is a hill covered in sagebrush and other vegetation.
Credit Lucia Starbuck / KUNR Public Radio
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KUNR Public Radio
NV Energy’s Gas Delivery and Natural Disaster Protection Vice President Jesse Murray (right) spoke with Nevada officials about the company’s work to mitigate wildfire spread along Foothill Road in Gardnerville, Nev., on Sept. 10, 2021.

Murray handles natural disaster protection for NV Energy. The power company has been clearing vegetation around wooden power poles throughout the Carson Valley and South Lake Tahoe areas.

“So this is now a fuel break that the fire potentially could not cross and that the fire crews could make a stand at if the fire did move into this area,” Murray said.

He said the clearing is protecting the community, and their electricity, in case the Caldor Fire were to creep closer.

Back in late July, a wildfire did get too close. The Tamarack Fire destroyed 92 power poles south of Gardnerville. The damage left some people without power for a day, others for a week.

“A community can’t really return in full force until they have the electricity back on,” Murray said.

Sisolak and Brooks are both wearing white button up shirts and masks. They are standing outside on dirt, surrounded by National Guard and firefighting personnel.
Credit Lucia Starbuck / KUNR Public Radio
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KUNR Public Radio
Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak (center) and State Senator Chris Brooks (right) spoke with other officials about NV Energy’s work to mitigate wildfire spread along Foothill Road in Gardnerville, Nev., on Sept. 10, 2021.

Nevada law requires NV Energy to develop a natural disaster protection plan, including how to address wildfire hazards, and the state pays for the work.

Nevada Democratic State Senator Chris Brooks from Southern Nevada sponsored the legislation in 2019.

“We’ll keep up the work because it’s real easy, when the fire isn’t burning, to forget about it,” Brooks said.

Brooks was joined by Governor Steve Sisolak last Friday. The two lawmakers toured some of the fire mitigation efforts along a road in Gardnerville.

Sisolak is wearing a blue jacket with the outline of Nevada on it and the words “Battle Born.” He’s outside, facing the camera, looking at two people with neon yellow vests that say “NV Energy,” with their backs to the camera.
Credit Lucia Starbuck / KUNR Public Radio
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KUNR Public Radio
Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak (center) spoke with NV Energy officials to learn about their work to create a fuel break in case the Caldor Fire encroached on the community along Foothill Road in Gardnerville, Nev., on Sept. 10, 2021.

“This is saving a lot of structures, a lot of damage, but potentially a lot of lives,” Sisolak said.

NV Energy’s wildfire mitigation plan ensures fuel breaks remain clear as plants grow back, along with monitoring and upgrading power poles in fire-prone areas.

Lucia Starbuck is a corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project.

As a note of disclosure, NV Energy is an underwriter for this station.

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