Project Reduces Wildfire Fuels in Vulnerable Neighborhood

The U-S Forest Service is reducing wildfire fuels in a vulnerable neighborhood just off the Mount Rose Highway.

Wildfire Fuels

RENO, NV - The rural neighborhood just off the Mount Rose Highway south of Reno is potentially a firefighter's nightmare.

It's a classic urban wildland interface. Homes accessed by narrow zigzagging roads, scattered through open land, some of it privately owned, some public, all of it laden with heavy brush and grass.

No one concerned about the danger needs to imagine it. They just have to remember last month's Washoe Drive fire.

Thirty two hundred acres burned and 29 homes were destroyed that day. Homeowners here watched as the fire marched down hillsides just across the highway.

It's likely they are taking more comfort in what they see taking place in their neighborhood these days.

"Some of the homeowners have seen us and are pretty excited that we're here," says Steve Howell, a fuels specialist with the US Forest Service.

What they're seeing is a small piece of equipment working some of the open areas. It looks like a Bobcat, the small earth moving vehicle familiar to many, but this one is equipped with something different.

It's called a masticator and as it moves through the bitterbrush and sage, it's literally chewing it up, leaving behind a mulch which will help keep down the cheat grass, the flash fuel that will soon be sprouting here.

There's nothing new about fuel reduction programs like this. They've been part of the Forest Service's prevention plans for years.

What's new is when the work is taking place.

Most years they'd have to wait for spring. The mild weather is giving them an early start, but it's a good news-bad news situation.

"We're kind of fortunate that we don't have the show here so we can get in here and do this project," says Howell, "but on the other hand without the snow things are going to be pretty dry if we don't continue to get moisture."

'Pretty dry' means the potential for a busy fire season.

The masticator continues its work as we talk. The land left behind still contains some brush, but it's much safer.

We're reminded though that the Forest Service, can only do this on the parcels of public land checkerboarded through this neighborhood.

The hope is homeowners here will follow their lead on their own property.

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