Wildfire Update: Winters, Basco, Taylor Fires

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Wildfires currently burning in Northern Nevada charred areas of land larger than the size of New York City, including its five boroughs.

The country's largest wildfire is still burning in Elko County. The Winters Fire is burning about 50 miles northeast of Winnemucca and about five miles northwest of Midas, and it has burned an amazing 370 square miles...and continues to threaten the I.L. Ranch. Crews say the fire is about 40 percent contained, but they still have 104 miles of the fire's perimeter left to secure.

Meanwhile, the Basco Fire is burning 18 miles northwest of Elko and is 90 percent contained. That fire has burned over 50 thousand acres.

And the Taylor fire east of Tuscarora has scorched 45 hundred acres and is 85 percent contained.

Firefighters have been forced to adjust their tactics, which may result in even more burned land.

Helen Hankings, a Bureau of Land Management Field Manager, is concerned about the number of fires burning and how they are affecting firefighting techniques.

"Because of the large number of fires going on in the West, we cannot get requested aviation or other resources quickly, which could be used for a direct attack," Hankings says. "At this point, indirect tactics in some situations are our only option to stop the spread of

"Indirect tactics means that firefighters will be doing more extensive burnout operations than in previous years to stop the spread of the main fire," Hankings adds. "Typically, more ground is burned as opposed to using direct firefighting tactics."

Hankings says indirect tactics are controversial in northeastern Nevada because of the toll taken on grazing allotments, wildlife habitat and other resources.

"We greatly value Nevada rangelands because they provide habitat, forage and wide open spaces - we hate to see anything burned," Hankings says. "However, we're in treacherous conditions now. We have the best firefighters in the country right here. Safety of human life is our No. 1 priority. There is neither one acre of ground nor 1 million acres of ground that are worth a single human life."

Bill Roach, an Elko Interagency Dispatch Center Manager, points out the pros of fighting complexes of large fires.

"Complexes give fire management teams more flexibility to move resources from one fire to another," Roach says.

In Northern Lincoln County, the Hambly and Range fires bracketing the virtual ghost town of Hiko near the Big Rocks Wilderness also were declared a complex, though the two fires are burning 10-12 miles apart.

Special firefighting teams are in place at the Winters fire and the Hambly complex and one is on order for the Basco complex to provide more highly trained personnel and access to additional resources.

Jeff Arnberger, a BLM Elko Acting Fire Management Officer, is aware of intense weather conditions that will affect firefighting progress.

"We're bracing for a tough day," Arnberger says. "There's a Red Flag Warning in effect for Saturday from noon to 8 p.m. with strong winds. We've got every available resource we can lay our hands on fighting fires. We're doing what we can and trying to stay safe."