Sheep called in to chew away wildfire threat
Carson City, Nev. • Carson City welcomed what's become an annual spring contingent of four-legged firefighters.
Hundreds of sheep released last week in the hills on the city's west side are munching on cheatgrass and other emerging vegetation to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires this summer.
The sheep have become a familiar sight in this capital city since 2006, two years after the Waterfall Fire swept from wildland areas into Carson City's suburban neighborhoods, destroying 17 homes and damaging 14 others.
The July 2004 blaze also damaged or destroyed three commercial buildings, 51 vehicles and 32 outbuildings. Estimates were that it took some $8 million to control the blaze, which did at least $10 million in personal-property damage.
By all accounts, springtime sheep grazing is a bargain.
"It's one of many tools in our toolbox," Carson City Fire Chief Stacey Giomi told the Nevada Appeal. "It's one of the greenest tools."
He said it benefits the city and its residents, the sheep, shepherds and owners for the animals to eat the cheatgrass to cut down on the fire-fueling vegetation between range tree lines and homes on the west side.
"There is no cost to the city," said Ann Bollinger, the city's natural resources specialist with the Parks and Recreation Department. "The project has really worked out for us."
A decade later, Giomi still readily recalls the fire that thrust him in charge because the chief was on vacation.
"I was the acting chief," he said. "It was devastating. It was devastating to our community; it was devastating to our employees."
Bollinger said the sheep-grazing area runs along the city's west side from Curry Street north to the Western Nevada College campus. She said the animals will move in a slow-paced graze expected to take about five weeks.
A couple of herders, a Great Pyrenees guard dog and three or four border collies will accompany about 750 sheep, plus lambs.
Firefighters are providing water for the animals, the second year the agency has done so.
"It was like a stampede of them coming out of the hills," Giomi said, adding that the sheep understand firefighters' arrival means its drinking time. He said that when he pulled up, the sheep were more than a mile away, but not for long.
"They were coming a mile a minute; they were there in seconds."