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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Historic Cheatgrass Fueled Wildfires in Nevada

Authors
item Young, James
item Clements, Darin

Submitted to: Meeting Abstract
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: March 20, 2006
Publication Date: May 25, 2006
Citation: Young, J.A., Clements, C.D. 2006. Historic cheatgrass fueled wildfires in Nevada [abstract]. Nevada Wildland Fire Research and Outreach Conference. May 25, 2006, Reno, NV. p. 6.

Technical Abstract: Cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum L.) is a highly invasive, exotic annual grass that is the fuel most often associated with the chance of ignition and rate of spread of wildfires on Nevada rangelands. Cheatgrass matures in late spring or early summer compared to late summer and early fall maturity for native perennial grasses. This extends the wildfire season into the hottest months of the year. The dense growth and fine texture of cheatgrass herbage provides a continuity of fuel to spread fire from shrub to shrub. Cheatgrass was associated with enhanced numbers and the size of wildfires by the 1930s. Total acres burned in Nevada were estimated at nearly 100,000 acres annually. This compares to practically nothing burned during the first two decades of the 20th century, except promiscuous burns. The University of Nevada, College of Agriculture started a project of investigating cheatgrass fueled wildfires in 1936. In 1964, a series of dry lighting sparked wildfires joined to burn 300,000 acres in northeastern Nevada and drew national attention to “fire storms” threatening the city of Elko. The next significant wildfire year was 1985 when one fire burnt in the Jungo Flat area with a continuous 20 mile long fire front. This fire largely burned in salt desert vegetation, which was a new event for Nevada. The 1999 wildfires burned an indefinite estimate of 1.4 to 2.0 million acres of rangeland.

Last Modified: 10/23/2014
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