The Great Basin is generally very dry in late July and early August. Most thunder showers that come through are fast-moving monsoonal storms and they tend to put out a lot of lightning – but with trace amounts of rainfall. Because of that, the majority of the fires that start here in Northeast Nevada are caused by lightning. The grass and sage is so dry that a single strike can ignite it and the winds generated by the storm – often in excess of 50 miles per hour – spread the flames in numerous directions. But people often cause fires here as well. Sources of fire-causing sparks can come from countless activities – ranging from ricocheted bullets to escaped campfires to the very rare intentional start.
The process – from start to finish – of how a fire goes from ignition to extinguishment requires a lot of pre-planning and communication. It also requires multiple agencies to work together in order to ensure that fires are put out safely and quickly. The first element that must occur is ignition. Once a fire starts, someone must report it. This usually comes from ranchers or mine employees who cover great distances in the remote areas of our district. We also receive fire reports from our air-attack aircraft that oftentimes flies over our district after large lightning storms looking for fires. That report must make its way to the Elko dispatch center so that resources can be sent out. The dispatchers must determine where the fire is located and who needs to be sent to it. The Elko dispatch center is responsible for coordinating the response of 28 separate fire departments, in addition to all the Nevada Division of Forestry inmate crews throughout the state, and all Bureau of Land Management, United States Forest Service and Bureau of Indian Affairs resources within the district.
Once the appropriate resources arrive, the fire must be “sized-up.” which requires the first unit on scene to describe what the fire is burning in, near, how intense it is and what other resources are needed. The first person on scene who is qualified to command the fire will become the incident commander and take over and direct everyone else who shows up where to go and what to do. The incident commander will order supplies such as food, water and firefighting equipment to be brought out to the incident. Resources do not go back to their stations every night after a 12-16 hour shift – they sleep on the ground – so everything must be brought out to them.
After the fire perimeter is out, firefighters begin to “mop-up” making sure there are no hot areas inside the fire – this is a time consuming and labor intensive process and often takes longer than it did to stop the fire from growing. The final step is what is called “demob” (short for demobilization) when all the resources on the fire are released to go back to their stations to get ready for the next one.