Today there is a bit of good news for anyone worried about how firefighters will control wildfires during the current coronavirus pandemic. The wildfire potential outlook issued by the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) on March 1 predicted that the coastal areas of Central and Southern California would have above average conditions for April, but that changed in a new outlook released today.
As indicated in the Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook map, there are no areas in the United States with forecasts for above normal wildfire activity in April.
That is expected to change in May with enhanced potential in southeast Arizona and south Florida. Then in June portions of northeast California and the southern areas of Nevada and Utah will be added to the list. In July firefighters could be busy in Washington, Oregon, and northern California.
Fire managers across Utah and the West have canceled prescribed burns, postponed training and are making plans for how to fight wildfires in the age of the coronavirus.
The virus is interrupting Utah’s four-year plan with $20 million from the federal government to reduce the risk wildfires pose to communities. Spring is prime time for prescribed burns — setting fires to reduce excessive tree and grass growth — but the U.S. Forest Service on March 17 instituted a nationwide pause on the practice.
“Anytime that you do prescribed burning, you put smoke into the air,” said Alyse Sharpe, spokeswoman for the Forest Service’s regional field office in Ogden. “We want to prevent any effects from smoke that might further worsen conditions for those who are at risk in our communities while reducing exposure for employees who might not otherwise need to travel.” Sharpe said prescribed burns will be reconsidered later in April.
The Salt Lake Tribune
In California, a changing climate has made autumn feel more like summer, with hotter, drier weather that increases the risk of longer, more dangerous wildfire seasons, according to a new Stanford-led study. The paper, published in Environmental Research Letters, provides insights that could inform more effective risk mitigation, land management and resource allocation. “Many factors influence wildfire risk, but this study shows that long-term warming, coupled with decreasing autumn precipitation, is already increasing the odds of the kinds of extreme fire weather conditions that have proved so destructive in both northern and southern California in recent years,” said study senior author Noah Diffenbaugh, the Kara J Foundation professor at Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences.
Crews have contained a wildfire that broke out late Wednesday in Wetlands Park in the east valley, according to a fire official.
Multiple calls came in just before 11:20 p.m. about a fire at the park, said Assistant Fire Chief Larry Haydu with the Clark County Fire Department.
The first crews to arrive found the fire burning in an area considered inaccessible, and they requested help from the Bureau of Land Management. The park's walking path was able to contain the fire, and crews worked to reinforce the perimeter as it burned about 10 acres, according to Haydu.
As of 4:50 a.m. Thursday, Haydu said the fire was contained, but active fires were still burning inside the perimeter.
Crews from the BLM and Nevada Division of Forestry would stay on scene through the day, and another hand crew would come in at daybreak to help with mop-up, Haydu said.
KSNV-TV NBC 3 Las Vegas
On Wednesday, Gardiner Fire Chief Al Nelson issued a ban on open fires in the city and said no burn permits will be issued.
Some years, dry spring conditions can shut down open burns, but this year halting the spread of coronavirus, the highly infectious virus that causes COVID-19, is also a factor.
Not every municipality has shut down spring burns, but as the number of burn permits issued is spiking, local and state fire officials are keeping a sharp eye on conditions. Nelson said the trigger for him was a 5-acre brush fire in South Gardiner on March 21, an indication that fast-changing conditions could cause controlled burns to spread.
“The other piece of that was in the midst of COVID-19 restrictions and distancing, I had to call mutual aid, and I had 30-plus firefighters working close to each other to put the fire out,” he said.