Prescribed burn escapes, chars more than 2,500 acres in Douglas County

A prescribed burn set Wednesday to burn 400 acres on the east side of Mt. Como in Douglas County escaped and charred more than 2,500 acres by Saturday night.

Mark Struble, spokesman for the Bureau of Land Management, said the fire, in the Pine Nut Mountains north of Smith Valley and about 16 miles east of Minden, was 40 percent contained Saturday and that he expected total containment by this evening.

Today's weather is expected to cooperate with a high of 57 degrees and a low of 30. Winds are expected to be a little higher than usual at 12-22 mph from the north, northeast and humidity is expected to be at 40 percent.

Struble said the inch or so of snow which fell Friday, dying winds and cool temperatures were favoring firefighters efforts to stop the blaze.

"If this had happened in July we'd probably have to go all the way to Yerington to make it stop," he said. ''If we had known there would be gusts 15 to 20 mph higher than expected, we wouldn't have done the prescribed burn.''

Struble said Friday's winds gusted to 40 mph blowing sparks from the prescribed burn one-half mile to a mile outside of the fire line and continued to feed the fire until more than 2,500 acres were blackened. On Friday morning, he told reporters the burn behaved as expected Wednesday and Thursday.

"The good news," he said, "is the land that burned is within an area scheduled to be burned in the next year or so."

Struble said the prescribed fire was started in an area of "old decadent" pinon. He said decadent means an area of forest where the trees are so old and so close together that no other vegetation can grow.

"It benefits wildlife to get grass and sage, those types of plants that provide more forage," he said. "Fire has been excluded so long, we are losing the sage and grass deer like. By burning, we create a better mosaic where wildlife has good cover and good food."

Struble said cost to fight the fire was estimated at $30,670 as of Saturday evening.

The bureau will delay other planned prescribed burns until their prescriptions and those for the Como burn can be evaluated. The next scheduled burn is to take place near Markleeville, Calif., but Struble said it is unclear when that will take place.

Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt lifted a monthlong moratorium on controlled fires in June after a prescribed burn set by the National Park Service got out of control in May and roared through 47,000 acres, leaving 405 families homeless in Los Alamos, N.M. Controlled burning still is the management tool of choice.

''There's usually a fairly narrow window when weather conditions are just right for a prescribed burn,'' Struble said.

''We'll definitely take an internal look at why this fire spilled over. We try to learn from mishaps at any point on a project like this.''

No injuries were reported and no structures were threatened.

As of Saturday evening, five engines and six hand crews were working the fire. The hand crews included two hot-shot crews, one Bureau of Indian Affairs crew and three inmate crews.


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