Guinn Briefed On Wildfire Threat To State

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Federal and state firefighters told Gov. Kenny Guinn on Friday that wildfires in Nevada already have burned far more acres this summer than during all of 2003 - and the worst of the fire season is yet to come.

Representatives of the federal Bureau of Land management, U.S. Forest Service and state Forestry Division gave the governor a report showing that more than 330 fires have burned more than 13,000 acres this year. Last year, 203 fires burned 2,726 acres in Nevada.

Mike Dondero, fire management officer for the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, said firefighters face drought conditions along with cheatgrass and weeds in previously burned areas and heavy beetle infestations that have killed millions of trees.

"There are massive acres of just dead trees out there," said Dondero, adding that a fire in such areas would be disastrous.

Dondero, Nevada State Forester Pete Anderson and BLM fire manager Kevin Hull also told the governor that this summer may not be as warm as last year's, but it will be drier in August and there's a possibility of more lightning than usual.

In areas where thinning of trees is needed, such as the Carson City-Reno area, the fire hazards created by thick growth can't be removed in a short period "when it has taken 150 years to create it," Dondero said.

While there's major fire danger, Guinn was told the grounding of big air tankers because of safety concerns has resulted in a tripling of the number of small air tankers, to 15 in Nevada, plus the addition of a large helicopter.

Dondero added that follow-up inspections after the controversial grounding of the big planes have resulted in several returning to service. That includes one now based in Battle Mountain. And he said firefighters hope that more of the heavy tankers will be flying again soon.

Seven air tankers operated by Chico-based Aero Union Corp. were approved for firefighting duty as of Wednesday, following the reversal by the Forest Service of a May decision to ground all 33 of the large tankers used to fight wildfires across the nation.

The government canceled its heavy tanker contracts over safety concerns after two tankers operated by Hawkins and Powers Aviation Inc. of Greybull, Wyo., broke apart in midair over Colorado and California in 2002.