New bill to tackle western wildfire crisis

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A federal infrastructure bill passed last year will help solve the “wildfire crisis” in the West, including Mount Charleston, officials said Friday.

Speaking at a news conference at the Spring Mountains Visitor Gateway, Homer Wilkes, undersecretary of agriculture for natural resources and the environment, said wildfires were a “major” concern for the Biden administration.

“We really want to suppress these wildfires, and you do that by reducing the ‘fuel’ that’s on the forest floor,” Wilkes said with a snow-capped Charleston mountain in the background.

Wilkes didn’t specify how much money Nevada will receive through the bipartisan infrastructure law, but said it would be “seven figures.”

Wilkes told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that the funding was used to increase firefighter salaries and create firebreaks, which are sections of land large enough to slow a blaze.

According to the National Interagency Fire Center, 87% of forest fires are caused by humans. In 2020, there were 58,950 wildfires that burned a total of over 10 million acres. Suppressing those fires cost the U.S. Forest Service and Department of the Interior more than $2.2 billion combined, according to the fire center.

Mary Farnsworth, regional forester for the Forest Service’s Intermountain Region, said three factors affect wildfire behavior: weather, typography and the amount of “fuel” on the ground.

Farnsworth focuses on fuel, which is dried vegetation such as leaves, shrubs, and pines loose on the ground that act as fuel for a fire. Funding from the bill will be used to clean up fuel in the field.

Farnsworth said what she learned most from the Caldor fire near Lake Tahoe last year was how embers can travel about a quarter mile and push a fire across multiple acres if they land on dry vegetation.

She said the West is experiencing a severe drought, and lower snow levels and water runoff are allowing vegetation to dry out much faster, creating more fuel and lengthening the fire season.

Contact Jimmy Romo at [email protected] To follow @jimi_writes on Twitter.

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