Hot and dry. Not only is that the daily norm at the moment, but it is also the weather forecast for the long holiday weekend. Not only here in Southern Nevada, but across the region.
Just how dry is it? It’s tinder dry, and that means the needle on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) fire danger signs will be buried in the red zone this weekend. When that happens it signifies that conditions are such that it won’t take much to set off a wildland fire.
Though a wildfire can be caused by natural events such as lightning, most are caused by human beings. According to the National Park Service Wildland Fire Learning Center, “As many as 90 percent of wildland fires in the United States are caused by humans. Some human-caused fires result from campfires left unattended, the burning of debris, negligently discarded cigarettes and intentional acts of arson. The remaining 10 percent are started by lightning or lava.”
Another human source of ignition is fireworks.
Let’s face it, fireworks sometimes do some unpredictable things. One July Fourth at grandma’s house, for example, a firework got away from one of the kids down the road and landed in a field next door. At first all seemed well, but about two hours later several of us were battling flames with shovels.
While we all enjoy seeing a good fireworks show and the fireworks tradition associated with our Independence Day celebrations, they don’t belong on our wildlands, especially in a year as dry and hot as this is.
The BLM is so concerned about the fire danger on Nevada’s wildlands that it has issued an unmistakable warning to those who are thinking about sneaking in a private fireworks display.
“The possession and use of all fireworks (including safe and sane) on BLM-managed public land are prohibited,” says the warning. And as fire season continues the BLM, U.S. Forest Service, Nevada Division of Forestry, Bureau of Indian Affairs and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service “will be aggressively citing those who do not comply with posted restrictions and those who use or possess fireworks. Violation of these prohibitions is subject to punishment by a fine of not more than $10,000 or imprisonment for not more than six months or both, as Class B misdemeanors under federal law (agency statutes vary). Persons may also be responsible for resource damage, suppression costs and any injuries that occur if they are found liable for causing a wildfire.”
Multi-agency fire restrictions were implemented in May and prohibit the building and/or use of a campfire or charcoal stove, welding or operating an acetylene torch with open flames (except by permit), using any explosive (except by permit), using fireworks or firing a tracer, and operating an off-road vehicle without a spark arrestor. On the other hand, those same restrictions permit the use of “portable stoves using gas, jellied petroleum or pressurized liquid fuel.”
There are, however, some agency specific exceptions or additional restrictions in place. On BLM land, for example, “steel jacket ammunition and explosive targets (are) prohibited as they are known fire starters. Smoking is allowed in an enclosed vehicle only.” And the U.S. Forest Service is allowing campfires in developed recreation sites while “smoking is allowed outside of an enclosed vehicle in areas that are cleared of all flammable material for at least three feet.”
You can find more information on fire restrictions on the websites of various land managing agencies.
The bottom line is be careful with fire and anything that might cause a fire as you celebrate our independence. The desert and mountains of the Southwest are like a pile of tinder awaiting a source of ignition. And while it may be tempting to take some fireworks on your picnic or camping trip, please don’t. It’s just not worth the risk.
Freelance writer Doug Nielsen is a conservation educator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. His “In the Outdoors” column, published Thursday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, is not affiliated with or endorsed by the NDOW. Any opinions he states in his column are his own. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.