CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) - One of the driest winters on record in northern Nevada has prompted an unusual January warning from state Forester Peter Anderson.
"The lack of snowfall has resulted in extensive flammable vegetation throughout our communities and open-space areas in both urban and rural areas of the state," Anderson said in a statement Friday. "Human caused wildfires can be prevented and I encourage
all Nevadans to exercise extreme caution in areas with dry vegetation."
Northern Nevada hasn't seen any measureable precipitation since early October, and record high temperatures over the past week belie the fact it's wintertime.
Reno ended the year with its driest December in nearly 130 years after the month ended without any precipitation. The last time that
happened was in 1883.
With vegetation tinder dry and moisture levels nonexistent,conditions are ripe for a serious wild land fire more typical in late summer or early fall.
"Any kind of ignition is going to spark a fire," Anderson said. "If you put a wind with that, you'll have rapid spread."
Just two days before the New Year, a brush fire in Carson City burned 400 acres. In mid-November, the Caughlin fire destroyed or damaged 42 homes in Reno as it raced through steep canyons and ravines, burning more than 3 square miles.
There were large fires late in the year that destroyed critical rangeland, homes and wildlife habitat in Humboldt, Eureka, Washoe
and Elko counties, Anderson said.
"In the last month, we've had fire at 6,000-, 7,000-foot elevations, and active fire behavior," he said. Those mountain elevations are generally buried under snow by now.
"It's very strange," he said.
Winter is usually a time when fire agencies train, work on equipment and get ready for next year's wildfire season. But crews this year haven't caught much of a break.
"So far this winter, wildfires have occurred weekly through the state," Anderson said.
In 2011, 814 wildfires in Nevada burned 660 square miles, or 423,000 acres. It was considered an average year, acreage wise.
Fire officials hope the dry start to the 2012 isn't an omen of what's to come.
Snow and rain would help.
"Keep your fingers crossed," Anderson said.