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Knowing fire danger rating systems key to preventing wildfires


Regional fire officials this week are sharing tips on understanding different fire warnings and rating systems to help residents and visitors prevent wildfires. The Tahoe Fire and Fuels Team (TFFT) officials said people should know about fire weather watches and red flag warnings and pay attention to the National Fire Danger Rating System.

“Devastating wildfires can occur any time of year,” TFFT officials said in a statement. “Over 90% of wildfires are caused by people and are completely preventable. Fire prevention education is the key to keeping our communities and forests safe from unwanted wildland fires.”

Red Flag Warnings and Fire Weather Watches are both issued by the National Weather Service. Both the warnings and the watches are meant to alert local fire agencies and residents about weather conditions that could cause wildfires or make them grow rapidly. 

Here’s how TFFT defines each:

  • A Fire Weather Watch is declared when critical fire weather conditions could develop over the next 2-4 days. A watch is issued when forecasters have reasonable confidence that critical conditions will develop at longer lead times. 
  • A Red Flag Warning, the highest alert, is declared when weather events may result in critical fire weather conditions that may occur within the next 24-48 hours. These conditions may include very dry air combined with strong gusty winds or thunderstorms with little rainfall. Extreme caution is urged during this warning because a simple spark can cause a major wildfire.   

All open flames are banned during Red Flag Warnings.

The National Fire Danger Rating System is known by anyone who’s seen a Smokey Bear sign with a color-coded rating system. These are often near U.S. Forest Service lands. 

TFFT officials provided this key to the five-level rating system:

  • Fire Danger Level: Low (Green) Vegetation that can feed a wildfire does not ignite easily but a more intense heat source, such as lightning, may start fires in duff or dry rotten wood. Control of fires is generally easy.
  • Fire Danger Level: Moderate (Blue) Fires can start from most accidental causes, but the number of fire starts is typically low. Average fire intensity will be moderate except in heavy concentrations of vegetation, which may burn hot. Fires are still not likely to become serious and are often easy to control.
  • Fire Danger Level: High (Yellow) Fires can start easily from most causes and small vegetation (such as grasses and needles) will ignite readily. Unattended campfires and brush fires are likely to escape. Fires can become serious and difficult to control unless they are put out while small.
  • Fire Danger Level: Very High (Orange) Fires will start easily from most causes. The fires will spread rapidly and have a quick increase in intensity, right after ignition. These fires can be difficult to control and will often become much larger and longer-lasting fires.
  • Fire Danger Level: Extreme (Red) Fires of all types start quickly and burn intensely. These fires are very difficult to fight and may become very dangerous and often last for several days, weeks or months.

For more information on each rating system and fire prevention tips visit TahoeLivingWithFire or the University of Nevada, Reno Extension’s Living With Fire website.

Source: TFFT

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