LAKE TAHOE — A lackluster winter could create a long, hot summer for Lake Tahoe area firefighters.
With the water content of the Sierra Nevada snowpack sitting near 50 percent of normal, Lake Tahoe Basin forests are expected to dry out early and provide kindling for the numerous fires that start in the basin each year.
“Everyone is anticipating a real big, bad fire season,” said Lake Valley Fire Protection District Chief Gareth Harris, who encouraged people to make sure they have defensible space surrounding their homes.
Because of the sparse precipitation this winter, vegetation in western Nevada never really got green, Harris said.
A seasonal fire outlook from the National Interagency Coordination Center in Idaho shows fire danger increasing to above normal from May to July throughout the Sierra Nevada. Almost all of northwestern Nevada will continue to see above-normal fire potential during the same time frame.
“There are typically no significant fires during April, but parts of western Nevada have potential for a large fire under windy conditions,” according to the outlook. “This area has been exceptionally dry this winter.”
Bob Patton, fire management program manager for the Nevada Division of Forestry, noted that the overall accumulated precipitation in the Great Basin this winter was only about half of what it is normally — enough for him to throw up a warning flag, albeit with the caveat of it depending on rainfall over the next couple of months.
“It has the potential to be a real bad fire season in the Great Basin and even in the Tahoe area,” Patton said.
It’s an idea that Carson City Fire Chief Stacey Giomi echoed: “It’s kind of scary, actually, to think of the potential.”
He and Patton mentioned the continuous fire dangers in the area and the recent example of the Washoe Drive fire, which tore through the north end of Washoe Valley on Jan. 26.
An El Nino weather pattern may develop this summer and bring wetter-than-normal conditions, reducing the wildfire risk, but the timing of the switch is uncertain. Current long-range forecasts shows above-normal temperatures and near-normal precipitation, according to the outlook.
“The Western Great Basin typically has no significant fires through most of May but small fires start to appear by late May, transitioning into full fire season in June,” the outlook says. “However, due to the abundance and dryness of the fuels over western and parts of northern and central Nevada, above normal significant fire potential is still possible, depending on the weather pattern heading into summer.”
— Nevada Appeal reporter Nick Coltrain contributed to this story.