The Wooly Fire Brigade
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Chances are, you never wondered how many firefighters it takes to eat 3,900 pounds of grass in one day. After all, most firefighters never worry about that, so why should you?

Then again, you maybe living on the west side of town.

Nobody who was a resident of Carson City in July of 2004 will ever forget the four days of horror, when an out of control campfire grew into a flaming inferno that consumed 8723 acres of forest and brush land between Lakeview and Voltaire Canyon on the west side of town. Bare hillsides in that area still remind us everyday of the potential catastrophe we narrowly escaped, and will for a long time to come.

It was a big fire. It was a fast fire. It was an unpredictable fire. Most of all, it was an extremely hot fire. So hot, it burned the thick sage brush cover on C-Hill down to nothing but bare soil, with a few inches of charred stumps protruding where bushes used to be.

Seven years later those stumps are still there, surrounded by new vegetation, some of which is not welcome. Cheatgrass is an invasive plant without natural enemies. Like most of us it originates from Europe and Asia, and has a habit of supplanting the native population. This opportunistic grass increases the likelihood of wildfires by drying out earlier than native plants, staying susceptible to fires longer, being extremely flammable and better adapted to efficiently utilize nutrients and soil water than native plants after a wildfire. Areas dominated by cheatgrass have fire-repeat cycles of as little as 5 years, compared to 32 - 70 years in areas with native plants.

 

This requires considerably more than just an ounce of prevention.

Sheep have benefitted mankind since about 7000 B.C., and the State of Nevada since 1864. The list of products supplied by them ranges from the obvious like wool, meat, milk and sheepskin to the less expected like ingredients for cosmetics, soap and candle making, paper production, as well as musical strings and surgical sutures. Additionally, they have also been appreciated as preventive firefighters for the past few decades. They have 32 teeth, 8 of them incisors in the lower jaw, opposed by a hard, toothless pad in the upper jaw, and cheatgrass that gets between them has no chance of survival.

Since the year after the Waterfall Fire, residents on the west side of Carson City have listened to the bleat of sheep grazing the hills every spring from early April until late May. Moving to a different section every three or four days, depending on vegetation, up to 1500 sheep reduce the cheatgrass before its seeds can germinate and its leaves can turn into fuel for fires.

 
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