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Officials lay out ‘freakout’ factor for Nevada fire season

CARSON CITY — Flooding may be the big concern in much of Nevada now, but the thoughts of state and federal officials on Tuesday were on fire — specifically, wildland fires and what 2017 will bring to the Silver State.

Gov. Brian Sandoval was briefed on the potential wildfire season in a meeting with representatives from multiple agencies that work together to prepare for and fight fires.

For Southern Nevada, the forecast is not overly confident because of variables that cannot be predicted. A report from Chris Smallcomb with the National Weather Service says small fuels in Southern Nevada will likely produce fires of short duration.

The severity of the season for Mount Charleston and surrounding wildlands will depend on the intensity of the monsoon season and the temperatures, he said.

Smallcomb described the “freakout” rating for Southern Nevada as moderate from June through September.

A rating of “high freakoutness” is predicted for the Sierra Front along the Reno and Carson areas from July through September due to vegetation growth, with wind-driven fires able to expand quickly. The same forecast holds for the Great Basin region.

The Lake Tahoe Basin looks good until August due to the record snowfall and abundant moisture.

Other takeaways from the briefing:

■ There is plenty of soil moisture and mountain snow pack, which means a delayed fire season start at all elevations in all regions of the state.

■ But a huge, thick grass crop, along with carryover of dead grasses from 2016, could make for a busy mid- to late fire season for much of the state.

“Wildland fires are one of the biggest threats to Nevada’s citizens, natural resources, property and economy,” said a briefing paper from the Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “Managing wildland fire across Nevada’s vast, rural landscape becomes more difficult every year.”

Nevada lawmakers are restoring funding to a legislative account that can pay for fire costs. The Assembly Ways and Means Committee heard Assembly Bill 499 on Tuesday, which would add $5 million to the statutory contingency account, bringing the total for the fund to just over $14 million for the upcoming two-year budget.

The fire season and severity will depend on the region.

Wildland fires in Nevada have ranged from burning more than 1.8 million acres in 1999 to only 42,479 acres in 2015. Last year saw 265,156 acres burned.

Contact Sean Whaley at swhaley@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-3820. Follow @seanw801 on Twitter.

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