Preparing for Wildfire is More Than Evacuation and Defensible Space

Elements of a Fire Adapted CommunityHaving spent the majority of my life in Nevada, I’ve seen my share of wildfires. Growing up, I remember helping my father pick the weeds from the common area behind our house to improve our defensible space and even preparing items at home for an evacuation. Before starting with the Living With Fire Program, this is what I thought wildfire preparedness entailed. Since then, I’ve learned that there are five categories of actions to help residents prepare for wildfire. Those categories include: Access, Built Environment, Community Protection, Defensible Space and Evacuation. One easy way to remember these elements is to just remember your “ABCs and Ds and Es!”

Access: This is how you and emergency services get in and out of your community.  Some examples of proper access in your community include:  local fire services have key access to your gated driveways, long driveways or dead-end roads have enough room for emergency vehicles to turn around, your home’s address is readily visible from the street, there is at least a 13 ½-foot vertical clearance for your driveway, and that there are at least two ways out of the community.

Built Environment: The maintenance of a home and the manner in which it is built can improve the odds of a home surviving a wildfire. Maintaining a deck and how a deck is built is one example of the built environment. For example, it’s recommended to keep all deck materials in good condition and to consider using fire-resistant-rated materials. Residents should habitually check the deck for combustible debris (pine needles, leaves, twigs and weeds) under the deck and between deck boards. They should also consider enclosing the sides of the deck and to not store combustible materials under it.

Community Protection: Two ways to improve your community’s protection is via fuel breaks and community safe areas. A fuel break is a strip of land that has had highly flammable vegetation removed to reduce the wildfire threat. A safe area is a designated spot within a community where residents can stay to wait out the wildfire. Examples of safe areas include: ball fields, irrigated pastures, parks and parking lots.

Defensible Space: This is the area between a home and an oncoming wildfire where the vegetation was managed to reduce the wildfire threat and allow firefighters to safely defend the home. An effective defensible space includes knowing the proper distance for vegetation management, removing dead vegetation, thinning dense trees and shrubs, removing ladder fuels, and creating a “Lean, Clean, and Green” area around the house.

Evacuation: Residents should prepare for evacuation long before a wildfire occurs. This includes developing a family evacuation plan, assembling a To-Go bag, and knowing what to wear and take when evacuating.

I only reviewed a small portion of this information. For more in-depth information regarding these five categories, please view “Fire Adapted Communities: The Next Step in Wildfire Preparedness” here.  I urge all residents to check out this great publication and to prepare for wildfire.

Headshot of Jamie

Jamie Roice-Gomes

Jamie Roice-Gomes is the outreach coordinator with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension’s Living with Fire Program.  She earned her Bachelor of Science in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation and a Master of Arts in Interactive Environmental Journalism. She was a public relations assistant for Conrad Communications, a public information officer intern at the Nevada Department of Conservation & Natural Resources, and a Biological Science Technician at the USDA-Agriculture Research Service. She also enjoys volleyball, the Great Basin Desert, and spending time with family. Contact Jamie at 775-336-0261 or [email protected].

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Are you Ember Aware?

Twenty locations of vulnerable areas on, near or around a home that is easily ignitable

Working at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension’s Living With Fire Program has altered my perception of the ember threat and proper defensible space. Just the other day, I approached my sister’s house and caught myself secretly congratulating her on her home’s defensible space.

One publication that is partly responsible for my increased awareness is “Be Ember Aware!”. It lists twenty-two locations around the home that are vulnerable to ignition from embers during wildfire and gives suggestions on how to reduce the threat.

Contrary to the popular belief that homes ignite due to a large wall of flames, experts estimate that 90% of homes ignited during a wildfire are because of embers. Embers are pieces of burning material that can be carried by the wind more than a mile ahead of a fire.  When they land something easily ignitable on or near the house, the home is at risk of burning.

I’ve spoken with a few folks who were surprised to hear about the recommendation to keep woodpiles at least 30 feet from the house or other buildings, or changing out their attic or foundation vents to 1/8-inch wire mesh. To learn more about the ember threat view the publication, click here “Be Ember Aware!”.

Jamie HeadshotJamie Roice-Gomes is the outreach coordinator with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension’s Living with Fire Program.  She earned her Bachelor of Science in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation and a Master of Arts in Interactive Environmental Journalism. She was a public relations assistant for Conrad Communications, a public information officer intern at the Nevada Department of Conservation & Natural Resources, and a Biological Science Technician at the USDA-Agriculture Research Service. She also enjoys volleyball, the Great Basin Desert, and spending time with family. Contact Jamie at 775-336-0261 or [email protected].

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Lessons from Replacing My Junipers

A picture of a Japanese Boxwood shrub

Japanese Boxwood in my yard. Photograph Courtesy of University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.

Before I started my position with the Living With Fire Program, my husband and I removed our flammable junipers as they were too close for comfort being fifteen feet from the house. Next we were faced with the task of replacing the junipers. Armed with little horticulture knowledge, my husband and I visited a home improvement store and purchased an adorable little Japanese Boxwood shrub. In our minds, this would be a small, low maintenance shrub. After speaking with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension’s Master Gardener Coordinator, Wendy Hanson-Mazet, I learned that this is NOT the shrub that I should have planted.

A graphic that depicts what ladder fuels can look like

An example of ladder fuels. Graphic Courtesy of University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.

Wendy told me that Japanese Boxwoods are meant to be used as hedges, require pruning and they can grow anywhere from 3- to 12-feet tall. I planted this shrub next to my tree and even if the shrub grows to be three-feet tall, it can become a “ladder fuel”. In other words, it can be “vegetation that would allow a fire to ignite taller vegetation such as tree branches”. Wendy pointed out that the Japanese Boxwood is similar to the Euonymus shrub species which IS recommended in Living With Fire’s publication, “Choosing the Right Plants for Northern Nevada’s High Fire Hazard Environments”. Even though I planted something that is similar to a recommended plant, the placement, height of the plant and maintenance of the shrub aren’t desirable.

In hindsight, I wish I would have planted herbaceous flowers or a low-lying, low-maintenance shrub instead. I hope people can learn from my mistake and if plants need to be replaced, check out the publication, “Choosing the Right Plants for Northern Nevada’s High Fire Hazard Environments” here. If you need horticulture advice, contact a Master Gardener at http://www.unce.unr.edu/ .

Jamie HeadshotJamie Roice-Gomes is the outreach coordinator with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension’s Living With Fire Program.  She earned her Bachelor of Science in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation and a Master of Arts in Interactive Environmental Journalism. She was a public relations assistant for Conrad Communications, a public information officer intern at the Nevada Department of Conservation & Natural Resources, and a Biological Science Technician at the USDA-Agriculture Research Service. She also enjoys volleyball, the Great Basin Desert, and spending time with family. Contact Jamie at 775-336-0261 or [email protected].

 

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Be Careful when Removing the Flammable Weed Cheatgrass

A picture of dried cheatgrass in the field

Dried Cheatgrass

When talking with a neighbor, she expressed her concern over the flammability of cheatgrass and asked me how to safely remove it this time of year. As Outreach Coordinator for the Living With Fire Program, this is a common question that I hear from residents during the late spring, early summer time.

In all honesty, the best time to remove cheatgrass is during the early spring before the grass dries and the seeds mature. Unfortunately some individuals haven’t had the opportunity to remove those weeds yet. During this time of the year, a majority of the grass has dried, leaving a straw-like grass that is very flammable.

Let’s review the possible ways to remove cheatgrass: Spraying herbicide this time of year isn’t desirable as the grass is already dead and it won’t do much to the plant. Livestock grazing works well as they will consume it when it’s green, but avoid this method now that it’s dry and the seeds are hard. Pulling cheatgrass is an option, but it’s time consuming especially when there is an abundance of weeds. Mowing or weed whacking the dried grass is a faster method, but that can cause sparks from lawn mower blades or ricocheting rocks starting a fire. I bet you’re asking, “So how do we safely remove cheatgrass?!?”

To help me answer this question, I spoke with North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District’s Fire Marshal, Mark Regan to discuss the best method to remove cheatgrass this time of year. He recommended mowing or weed whacking in conjunction with the following four suggestions to do so SAFELY:

  • Ensure you choose to work on a day that is NOT a Red Flag Warning Day.

Red Flag warning days consider conditions where wildfire could potentially get out of control before first responders can arrive. To see if it’s a Red Flag Warning Day, check out the National Weather Service’s website   at http://www.weather.gov/ or follow their social media sites.

  •  Mow or weed whack during the early morning hours as the humidity is higher.

The cool, early-morning air usually holds more moisture than the dry afternoon or evening air and during dry conditions, it’s easier to ignite a wildfire. Therefore residents should mow or weed whack during the early morning.

  • Hose down the work area before and after.

To reduce the possibility of igniting a wildfire, water the work area and surrounding areas before and after mowing or weed whacking. Keep a hose and hand tool handy for quick access and if a fire starts, call 911 immediately. Be sure to monitor the area for at least two hours after mowing or weed whacking.

  •  Bag-up the cut grass and remove from the site.

Don’t forget to remove the cut weeds from the site.

There you have it! Be sure to follow these recommendations to more safely remove cheatgrass.

Jamie HeadshotJamie Roice-Gomes is the outreach coordinator with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension’s Living with Fire Program.  She earned her Bachelor of Science in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation and a Master of Arts in Interactive Environmental Journalism. She was a public relations assistant for Conrad Communications, a public information officer intern at the Nevada Department of Conservation & Natural Resources, and a Biological Science Technician at the USDA-Agriculture Research Service. She also enjoys volleyball, the Great Basin Desert, and spending time with family. Contact Jamie at 775-336-0261 or [email protected].

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Choosing the Right Landscaper

Photograph Courtesy of University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.

As the weather warms up, I look forward to following those defensible space suggestions made by Nevada Division of Forestry’s Fire Protection Officer Chanse Hunwardsen (to view the video click here). My neighbors (who also have received defensible space inspections) and I collaboratively decided to hire a landscaper to perform work on a group of homes, which will be less costly than if I were to pay a contractor to perform work on only my house.

Since I have little experience with landscapers, I looked on the Nevada State Contractors Board (NSCB) website for suggestions. There, I found a pamphlet on how individuals can choose the right landscaper at: http://www.nscb.nv.gov/landscaping_guide.html

Here is some interesting information that I found:

Why hire a licensed landscaper contractor?

  • Licensed contractors have passed trade and business law exams.
  • They are required to keep a surety bond and carry workman’s compensation insurance.
  • If damages occur, the Residential Recovery Fund is available for homeowners who conduct business with licensed contractors and is not available to those who hire an unlicensed contractor.

The following may require a landscape contractor:

  • Installing rocks, sand or gravel, non-engineered decorative landscape ponds, landscape retaining walls no taller than 3 feet.
  • Landscape irrigation installation.
  • Planting trees, shrubs or other vegetation.
  • Laying sod or hydroseeding.

When it’s OK to NOT to use a licensed landscape contractor:

  • Mowing/edging lawns.
  • Cleaning up/hauling debris.
  • Removing and trimming trees and shrubs. (Seek assistance from a certified arborist)
  • Thatching or aerating lawns.

To ensure that a landscaper is licensed, ask to view their contractor’s pocket ID card and obtain their NSCB license number. This number can be verified on the NSCB website or by calling their office. For more information regarding payment, writing a contract and Nevada’s Residential Recovery Fund, check out this link http://www.nscb.nv.gov/landscaping_guide.html

Keep in mind, when replacing plants in your landscape be sure to view the publication, “Choosing the Right Plants”.

As for choosing the right landscaper for our project, I’ll take this information to my neighbors and we all can make an informed decision.

Jamie Headshot

Jamie Roice-Gomes is the outreach coordinator with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension’s Living with Fire Program.  She earned her Bachelor of Science in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation and a Master of Arts in Interactive Environmental Journalism. She was a public relations assistant for Conrad Communications, a public information officer intern at the Nevada Department of Conservation & Natural Resources, and a Biological Science Technician at the USDA-Agriculture Research Service. She also enjoys volleyball, the Great Basin Desert, and spending time with family. Contact Jamie at 775-336-0261 or [email protected].

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WILDFIRE! Prepare. Anticipate. Evacuate.

Evacuate Landing

So often we think of wildfires in terms of how many acres burned or which roads are closed. But for some, those caught in the middle, it’s more a matter of ensuring that their loved ones and pets are accounted for, what to take and what must be left behind. To help residents prepare for such emergencies, this year’s Nevada Wildfire Awareness Month theme can help. It is: Wildfire! Prepare. Anticipate. Evacuate. I’ve prepared myself in some areas and need to do work in others. The following is how I interpret the theme, what I’ve prepared and what else I need to work on.

PREPARE.

To me, preparing for wildfire is an ongoing process that I’m still working on. I have completed a home inventory of my belongings. To view three inventory options that I tried and wrote about in a former blog, click here. I continually work to complete my defensible space inspection recommendations. View my defensible space inspection video here.  And I know that I need to create a family evacuation plan suited for my family’s needs.

ANTICIPATE.

To anticipate wildfire, I usually monitor the National Weather Service for Red Flag Warnings and check the local fire department/district’s social media accounts for fire updates. I also need to update my family to-go bag to include items for ALL of my family members as we’ve gained a new one recently. You can find tips for what to include on page 16 of our publication found here. Finally I need to assemble a Disaster Supply Kit. I found tips on how to assemble a kit here.

EVACUATE.

During a wildfire, I need to be able to evacuate quickly and safely when asked. This will be possible because I have prepared and anticipated wildfire. I have a lot of work ahead of me, but it is imperative to complete.

To view a powerful video of one family’s experience during a wildfire, click here  and be sure to PREPARE for wildfire, ANTICIPATE wildfire conditions and evacuation needs, and EVACUATE quickly and safely when asked by emergency responders during a wildfire.

Jamie HeadshotJamie Roice-Gomes is the outreach coordinator with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension’s Living with Fire Program.  She earned her Bachelor of Science in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation and a Master of Arts in Interactive Environmental Journalism. She was a public relations assistant for Conrad Communications, a public information officer intern at the Nevada Department of Conservation & Natural Resources, and a Biological Science Technician at the USDA-Agriculture Research Service. She also enjoys volleyball, the Great Basin Desert, and spending time with family. Contact Jamie at 775-336-0261 or [email protected].

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Replacing Mulch with Mulch

Partially composted mulch

Partially composted mulch

Since starting as the Outreach Coordinator with the Living With Fire Program, I have learned that landscape mulch located next to the house is undesirable.  This is because, from a defensible space stand point, embers from a  wildfire can ignite the mulch, and produce flames next to the house, possibly igniting it as well. Since then, my husband and I searched for a better alternative to replace all the wood mulch we currently have. We’ve come to the conclusion that our best option is…mulch.

You may think that I’m off my rocker. I’ve advocated against mulch in former blog posts. Now I’m replacing my mulch with mulch? Well hear me out. My husband loves the look of mulch, and considering that decomposed granite or DG was a little more expensive, we compromised on partially composted mulch.

Our decision to change out our mulch was reached after we reviewed the publication, “The Combustibility of Landscape Mulches”.  http://www.unce.unr.edu/publications/files/nr/2011/sp1104.pdf . This study was performed through a collaborative effort among the Carson City Fire Department, Nevada Tahoe Conservation District, University of California Cooperative Extension and University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Eight mulch treatments were weathered outdoors for 79 days, then ignited by a drip torch on a hot, dry afternoon in August. The mulch treatments were evaluated by flame height, rate of fire spread and temperature. Of the eight mulch treatments, the partially composted wood chips which are sold locally, primarily burned via smoldering combustion, were found to have the shortest flame height, the slowest rate of fire spread and burned at a low temperature. To see footage of these different treatments during the study, watch here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wKEeVWgwig&feature=youtu.be

My property is slowly evolving to make way for better defensible space and I’m beginning to feel much safer with our choices. Stay tuned for more of my experiences as a new homeowner.

Jamie HeadshotJamie Roice-Gomes is the outreach coordinator with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension’s Living with Fire Program.  She earned her Bachelor of Science in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation and a Master of Arts in Interactive Environmental Journalism. She was a public relations assistant for Conrad Communications, a public information officer intern at the Nevada Department of Conservation & Natural Resources, and a Biological Science Technician at the USDA-Agriculture Research Service. She also enjoys volleyball, the Great Basin Desert, and spending time with family. Contact Jamie at 775-336-0261 or [email protected].

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Plan and Prepare for Evacuation

Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal Pleasant Valley residents scramble to escape as the Andrew fire overruns the south end of Neilson Road Wednesday afternoon.

Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal
Pleasant Valley residents scramble to escape as the Andrew fire overruns the south end of Neilson Road.

I awoke to the smell of thick campfire-like smoke that had filtered into my bedroom. I jumped out of bed, turned on the bedroom light switch and nothing… the electricity was out. I ran to the window to see the glow of flames cresting the hill on the other side of McCarran Blvd, a major four-lane Reno highway. Since the wind was blowing and the fire was close and spreading, I made the decision to evacuate. Outside, the sky was orange from the wildfire and the street was congested with fire engines and trucks along with vehicles of evacuating residents. Fortunately, I was able to negotiate the chaos safely with my laptop in one hand and some clothes in the other. I’m lucky that my residence and I were unscathed from the wildfire. In the early morning hours of November 18, 2011, this was my experience during the Caughlin Fire.

Now place yourself in a wildfire evacuation at your house.  Imagine smelling smoke and frantically searching your house for belongings to pack while a wildfire threatens to ignite your home. The electricity is out making your search that much more difficult. Panic begins to cloud your judgement. What would you pack? What if you are unable to quickly find certain items? Have you considered how your neighborhood would evacuate? How many routes can you take to get out? Is there a locked gate that can be unlocked to allow for multiple evacuation routes?  Wildfires and evacuations occur and time may be a precious but unavailable commodity. Fortunately, the best way to ease these evacuation concerns is to plan and prepare.

What better way to prepare for wildfire evacuation than to attend The Nevada Network of Fire Adapted Communities 3rd Annual Conference! Held March 27 from 8:00 am – 5:00 pm at the Atlantis Casino Resort Spa in Paradise A & B Ballrooms, this event is free to the community and includes conference materials, continental breakfast, refreshments and lunch. Listen to real-life experiences from firefighters and residents who were involved with recent wildfire evacuations, learn how to properly evacuate a home and an entire community, how firefighters and other emergency responders can work with residents to develop an effective evacuation plan, and how to plan and conduct an evacuation drill in your community. To register for the conference, click here http://bit.ly/2fpfCcr

As a resident who has experienced two separate wildfires, you can bet I’ll be there!

 

Jamie Headshot

Picture of Jamie Roice-Gomes

Jamie Roice-Gomes is the outreach coordinator with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension’s Living with Fire Program.  She earned her Bachelor of Science in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation and a Master of Arts in Interactive Environmental Journalism. She was a public relations assistant for Conrad Communications, a public information officer intern at the Nevada Department of Conservation & Natural Resources, and a Biological Science Technician at the USDA-Agriculture Research Service. She also enjoys volleyball, the Great Basin Desert, and spending time with family. Contact Jamie at 775-336-0261 or [email protected].

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Video Blog: Learned lessons from defensible space inspection

Recently, I had a defensible space inspection performed on my property by Nevada Division of Forestry’s fire protection officer, Chanse Hunwardsen. Chanse noted some problem areas that I have previously addressed in former blogs, and he also addressed some issues that I had not considered. Watch this video to learn what issues were found and how to resolve them.

To learn more about our interactive defensible space graphic, check it out here.

Jamie HeadshotJamie Roice-Gomes is the outreach coordinator with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension’s Living with Fire Program.  She earned her Bachelor of Science in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation and a Master of Arts in Interactive Environmental Journalism. She was a public relations assistant for Conrad Communications, a public information officer intern at the Nevada Department of Conservation & Natural Resources, and a Biological Science Technician at the USDA-Agriculture Research Service. She also enjoys volleyball, the Great Basin Desert, and spending time with her husband and their mini Australian Shephard. Contact Jamie at 775-336-0261 or [email protected].

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Defensible Space Inspection Q&A Video Blog

Defensible space inspections are performed around a home to note areas in need of mitigation in order to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire. Watch the video as outreach coordinator, Jamie Roice-Gomes interviews Nevada Division of Forestry’s fire protection officer, Chanse Hunwardsen about defensible space inspections. Stay tuned for next month’s blog as Jamie reviews the results from her home’s defensible space inspection.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BzeWPjxSB1I&feature=youtu.be

Jamie HeadshotJamie Roice-Gomes is the outreach coordinator with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension’s Living with Fire Program.  She earned her Bachelor of Science in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation and a Master of Arts in Interactive Environmental Journalism. She was a public relations assistant for Conrad Communications, a public information officer intern at the Nevada Department of Conservation & Natural Resources, and a Biological Science Technician at the USDA-Agriculture Research Service. She also enjoys volleyball, the Great Basin Desert, and spending time with her husband and their mini Australian Shepard. Contact Jamie at 775-336-0261 or [email protected].

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