Scorching temps signal start of wildfire season, firefighters prepare

LAS VEGAS - Scorching temperatures in southern Nevada signal the start of fire season across the region.

Local firefighters are making last minute preparations before they have to head out in bulk to battle blazes across Nevada and the Western United States.

US Forest Service firefighters gave 8 News NOW a glimpse at their final training exercise... a chance to work out the kinks that could lead to deadly consequences on a real fire.

"Readiness is a big part of what we do," said Blake Watkins, a wildland firefighter from Louisiana. "We want to be ready, we want to be confident in what we do, and we want to be fluent, and if there's any troubleshooting, it's best to take care of that now."

Watkins says amid the chaos of a wildfire, the fire fight is a coordinated effort to try to contain and control the blaze.

"Being in Louisiana, we don't see a lot of big fires like out west," Watkins said.

Russell Bird, the Fire Management Officer of Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, was on hand to grade the performance of the crews.

"I think they did very well today," Bird said. "They went and demonstrated all of the skills we're looking for, so I'm pretty confident they are good to go for the year."

However, things can change in an instant.  Take, for instance, the King Fire in Northern California back in 2014.

Fire crews had made progress holding the blaze away from the small town of Pollock Pines, but a change in weather conditions allowed the fire to explode. Flames chewed up some 50,000 acres in an afternoon, heading to the north, away from town. Nearly a dozen firefighters had to use their fire shelters.

That was just one of many scenarios testing this crew during this training exercise.

One firefighter was told to deploy her fire shelter while she was working on the side of a hill. She was able to get inside of it and lay down on the ground in under 30 seconds.

"The wind would be howling up here, and it would try to rip the shelter off you, so when he double-checked, and she was tight, she was good to go," Bird said.

Fire Season Outlook

So what's the outlook for this fire season?

It's already well underway in northern Nevada.

"We've been getting on average three, four fires a day, and 90% of them so far have been target shooting," Bird said.

There's an increasing risk for wildfires in the southern part of the state, especially on Mount Charleston, down into the high desert foothills.

"(Clark County) will be in play for fires until the monsoons come, and they're predicting monsoons will probably hit the eastern side of the state this year," said Bird.   

Monsoon season also brings the additional threat of dry lightning.  But the firefighters say they're ready for whatever mother nature throws their way.


 


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