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Reid blames climate change for Nevada fires, seeks funding for prevention

July 11, 2013: The Carpenter 1 fire burns in the mountains behind the Red Rock Conservation Area visitor center near Las Vegas.AP

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is pleading for more spending on fire prevention as his home state of Nevada endures widespread wildfires, and says "climate change" is to blame for the devastating blazes. 

"The West is burning," Reid said Wednesday. 

According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the Nevada Democrat said the conditions that help the fires spread are fueled by climate change. 

"Why are we having them? Because we have climate change. Things are different. The forests are drier, the winters are shorter, and we have these terrible fires all over the West," he said. 

The biggest fire in the area, in Elko County, was sparked by lightning. Reid, though, argues that drier conditions keep them burning longer than they used to. 

The data on the subject is mixed. Those who point to climate change as the culprit say the fires are bigger than they used to be. 

The Review-Journal, though, reported that National Interagency Fire Center stats show the actual number of wildfires has been on the decline -- from 40,736 wildfires this time in 2011 to 25,370 in July 2013. 

Regardless of the cause, Reid says he wants more funding for the Forest Service to clear away brush that fuels these fires. 

"This is really a devastating fire," he said on the Senate floor last week. He said the summer heat, dry conditions and wind are working against firefighters. 

Crews are currently working to corral a pair of wildfires that have charred a total of nearly 5 square miles of northeast Nevada rangeland, including one that burned through power lines and threatened the Ruby Pipeline near Tuscarora. 

One firefighter suffered a minor heat-related injury but was treated and released Wednesday from an Elko hospital. 

The biggest fire, the lightning-sparked Cattle Guard fire, has burned an estimated 2,500 acres near Owyhee, mostly on reservation land. No structures are threated. Full containment is expected by Thursday. 

The Wieland fire, which threatened the pipeline, has burned about 650 acres of rangeland about 30 miles northwest of Elko. It's 10 percent contained with full containment expected Friday. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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