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Cheatgrass helps fuel bigger fires

By Mitchell Willetts

The Enterprise

VALE -- In recent years, fires are burning bigger and hotter in the Treasure Valley than decades past.

According to the Vale District of the Bureau of Land Management, more acres have burned in the territory the last six years than in the previous 30.

There's some debate over what is causing this change in fire behavior. Some experts suspect climate change, but in Malheur County at least, the primary suspect is an invader -- cheatgrass.

"Speaking as a firefighter, someone who's been on the district a long time and fought fire all over the West, the more cheatgrass you have, the more fires you're apt to get," said Al Crouch, bureau fire specialist.

Cheatgrass is opportunistic, he said. It grows in any empty space, crowding the range, covering it like carpet. It dries easily, burns easily, and it's everywhere in . . .