Thursday, July 12, 2018

'It's gone, it's gone:' Nation's largest wildfire in Nevada devastates ranches, sage grouse

About 1 a.m., as July 4th festivities died down, Fred Stewart got an uneasy call from his neighbor. “I think your ranch is on fire,” he recalled the neighbor telling him. When Stewart checked on the fire, he saw that the blaze hadn’t reached his property but was heading that way. Stewart, whose family has worked the historic Ninety-Six Ranch in Paradise Valley for more than 150 years, went out and started opening gates so cattle could get away from the flames. When he checked on the blaze in the morning, the small fire that had developed near the valley about 60 miles outside of Winnemucca — likely from fireworks or campers — had exploded and was running wild across the public land that the Stewarts had long relied on to graze their cattle. “By then, there was nothing anyone could do,” Stewart said. The Martin Fire broke out in the morning hours of July 5th and ripped through dry vegetation to quickly become the largest blaze in the United States, the largest this season and the largest single fire in Nevada history. As of Wednesday night, the fire had burned in more than 439,000 acres, or about 686 square-miles, an amount of land more than twice the size of New York City. It has not only destroyed grazing areas but has damaged an ecosystem for the sage grouse, the bird that has been a focal point of political wrangling because of the impact of its possible inclusion on the endangered species list. On Wednesday, less than one week later, Stewart said that the fire had burnt nearly all of the ranch’s 100,000 acres of grazing land controlled by the Bureau of Land Management. “It’s gone, it’s gone” he said. “Riding across there, it feels like you are on the moon.” Federal land managers and rangeland ecologists expect there to be lasting impacts on grazing, wildlife and sagebrush habitat in the burned areas, with a full recovery taking up to a decade...MORE

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