Wildfire risk growing concern in prolonged drought

Nevada properties at some risk from wildfire include nearly 500 in Carson City, according to a national and global property information company.

CoreLogic, which said California leads western states now at risk for wildfire property damage, reported estimates of the reconstruction value of the Carson City properties at about $200 million. CoreLogic, based in Irvine, Calif., calls itself a global property information, analytics and data-enabled services provider. The firm has released its assessment as a drought is in year No. 4.

It said nearly 900,000 single-family homes in 13 western states are at high or very high risk from wildfire damage. None of the Carson City properties was labeled as at very high risk. There were 33 in Nevada’s capital city put at low risk, 387 at moderate risk and 77 at high risk, according to the company.

Wildfire is of concern to a Reno-based meteorologist and a Carson City open space manager due to the four-year drought.

“The drought has been so pervasive now, it’s really hurting bigger vegetation,” said Chris Smallcomb, the meteorologist, noting there isn’t sufficient snow or water to help mitigate fire hazards for pines or pinon junipers and even vegetation at lower elevations. “We could see enhanced chances for wildfire; it’s the same down here from (dry) vegetation.”

Ann Bollinger, Carson City’s open space manager, helps oversee a program under way for years in which sheep graze cheat grass and other vegetation that can provide fuel for wildfires once they start. She said the program has worked well and this spring the sheep is going to graze a bit higher than on C Hill and comparable lower elevations, as well as for less duration in all likelihood.

She said there are two reasons: with the drought, the cheat grass hasn’t grown in prolific fashion and density has been reduced. She said those monitoring the program also want perennials like wheatgrass to do well.

“The drought is affecting both the annuals and the perennials,” Bollinger said. She said this year the grazing will take three or four weeks rather than the usual six or eight and will be in different places.

“We probably won’t graze the lower interface areas,” she said. “The sheep will be up in the higher elevations this year.”

Bollinger expressed an upbeat analysis of how the program has fared, but didn’t want to sound overconfident.

“We do,’ she said when asked if the program had a handle on holding down vegetation as wildfire fuel, “but I will caution that I’m still nervous because the fire hazard has a history of returning every 10 to 15 years. We are in a high fire risk area.”

Bollinger said this year the sheep will be deployed for grazing about mid-April.


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