Let’s Lend Firefighters a Hand, Huh?

As a member of a community located in the wildland-urban interface where a beautiful hike is moments from my door, there’s always wildlife to study, and the stars seem to burn a little brighter at night, I take pride in my community. I also take comfort in the multiple fire stations close by, for as beautiful and enjoyable as the hills around my house are, they could quite easily burn, and if the old charred sagebrush carcasses I’ve seen on my hikes are any indication, they have before.

I appreciate my community fire service men and women. I think they’re heroic and brave, and cannot begin to count the number of neighbor kids I used to babysit who wanted to be firefighters when they grew up. So with the faith society puts on our fire services, it’s absolutely reasonable for me to expect a fire engine in my driveway, protecting my house from a wildfire, right? Well, maybe not.

A recent internet search turned up a production by The Denver Post called “The Fire Line: Wildfire in Colorado.” The video features compelling stories of the people who lost their homes to Colorado wildfires and the firefighters who were tasked with defending them. The message is well delivered and simple: in a society where more and more homes are built in the wildland, it’s unfair to expect firefighters to put themselves in certain danger to defend them, when the homeowner has not taken any steps to reduce their fire threat. I highly recommend it. Watch it here, and keep a tissue handy!

It appears as though Nevada’s got a similar idea. The Living With Fire homepage features the poster for the Nevada Wildfire Awareness Month campaign. The message: Prepare Your Home For Wildfire. See the poster and a list of events people around the state are participating in, at http://www.livingwithfire.info/wildfire-awareness-month.

Living With Fire’s message behind the poster is also simple: “This year we hope to change the traditional reactionary thinking of protecting our homes from wildfire to a proactive approach – prepare your home for wildfire!”

I think I’ll take this call to action to task. By preparing my home for the wildfire I know is bound to strike the hills by my house again, then I’ll have done my community fire services a favor. It’ll be easier to defend a house that’s ready, or if the area’s not safe for them to be in, I’ll know my house still has a chance of surviving without a fire engine in my driveway. Now that’s something to take comfort in.

To learn how to make your home safer from a wildfire, and a place that fire services can better defend, visit livingwithfire.info.


Natalie Newcomer





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Creepy Crawlies and Pinyon Pine

Pinyon Pine

One of my favorite things about living in the Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI) is that I can walk out my front door and start hiking within moments of leaving my house.

I love to study pinyon pine trees on my hikes. They have needles and drop pine cones like a pine tree should, but they make the most interesting shapes. Instead of the conical, straight-up-and-down shape you’d expect from an iconic pine tree, their branches twist and extend out wide at all angles, almost like an oak tree. They’re so much fun to look at because they’re all so individual!

Imagine my delight when I found a publication called “Pinyon Pine Management Guidelines For Common Pests” on the Living With Fire website. The booklet is short – an easy Sunday afternoon read – and tells all about how to manage pinyon pine on your property as well as their general forest management guidelines. When properly cared for, they can survive disease and resist beetle attack. Wait… what?

Beetle attack. The paper devotes a large section to common pests that would infect pinyon pine. At the top of the list is the Pinyon Ips beetle. These nasty little buggers, dark brown or black bugs that are approximately 1/4 inch long, attack the tree and leave it in terrible shape after they’re done. The process goes like this: a male bores into the bark of the tree and releases a pheromone to call other male and female beetles; they mate and the females engrave canals to lay eggs; the eggs hatch and little white larvae eat the inner bark; finally, once they all grow up, they fly on to other trees and the process starts over. Is your skin crawling yet? Mine is.

Pinyon Ips beetles target drought-stressed trees or trees that have fresh wounds for entry; because of this, the booklet suggests that pinyon pines should only be pruned during fall and winter months. Trees that have been attacked will have boring dust in the bark crevices and at the base of the tree, as well as gobs of pitch on the outer-bark. Between a fungus carried by the beetle and their meal-time habits, Ips beetles can be fatal to pinyon pine, and dead trees are like roman candles in the WUI. All it would take is one traveling ember from a wildfire and it will ignite, endangering everything around it.

The pinyon pine is Nevada’s state tree and is one of the many treasures of our landscape. For information on pinyon pine, read “Pinyon Pine Management Guidelines For Common Pests.” To learn how to make your home and community safer from the threat of wildfire, visit www.livingwithfire.info.

Hope to see you hiking among the pinyon pine!

Natalie Newcomer


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Use an Ash Can to Prevent Winter Fires

It seems like “winter fire” is a current buzz word… well, buzz words. The news is full of stories of fires that have left destruction in their wake in California, and in other places as well. It seems strange that winter should be a time when such devastating fires would catch.

In all of my childhood memories, fires were typically a part of a Nevada summer. Smoke turning the sun into a burning red disc would coincide with hot sidewalks and dripping ice cream. It was only a couple of years ago that I had my first notable experience with wildfire in winter: when the Washoe Drive Fire tore through Washoe Valley in the middle of January.

It was before my husband and I had bought our house, so the event hadn’t really triggered any “what if” moments for us. We simply worried about the welfare of our friends who lived in communities threatened by the blaze and were relieved when the fire was out.

Last Friday I saw a series of PSAs from Washoe County and Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District on the history of the Washoe Drive Fire and the importance of using an ash can to properly dispose of woodstove and fireplace ashes.

According to the longer of the PSAs, ashes were improperly disposed of and four days later, high winds fanned the resulting blaze. The images from the video are sobering. Flames engulf homes as firefighters brave the fire and try to protect whatever they can. The statistics are staggering: one person died, 29 homes burned, over 10,000 people had to evacuate, and the fire left over four million dollars in damages.

Another video talks about how to properly dispose of fireplace ashes. It’s actually pretty simple: scoop ashes into the ash can, pour water over them, close the lid tightly, set away from combustible materials for at least four days, and once the ashes have cooled, dispose of them in the trash.

Being careful to properly dispose of fireplace and woodstove ashes seems a crucial piece in preventing the devastation of winter fires. To see the Public Service announcements, check out the Living With Fire website at www.livingwithfire.info.

Stay Warm and Safe,

Natalie Newcomer

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Help the Forest, Cut a Tree

The weekend after the Thanksgiving holiday has always marked a prized tradition in my parents’ house: Christmas tree hunting.

When I got married I would drag my husband down to our local Forest Service Ranger Station to purchase a tree tag, and we’d go on the annual tree hunt whenever possible.

 We always enjoyed ourselves. The fresh blanket of snow, clean mountain air, and sharp smell of tree sap on our fingers made up for our wet pants and frozen toes. 

 That was before the great shift happened. One particularly snowy Christmas tree hunt, I found the perfect tree, a white fir that stood around 7 feet tall and was coated in a fresh dusting of glittering snow. The branches were full and perfectly spaced and begged to be adorned with ornaments. My husband took a saw to its base and it happened. I felt guilty – stone-in-the-pit-of-my-stomach guilty. I was depriving a tree of its full, majestic life. Normally it would still be looking out over the forest long after I was gone, but I had killed it for my holiday celebration. We took it home, but the holiday just wasn’t the same, and every Thanksgiving since I’ve made sure my weekend held no room for the family tree hunt.

I’ve recently had a change of heart. While browsing the Living With Fire website (LivingWithFire.info), I came across a fact sheet that articulates the benefits of tree thinning. While one part of the paper addresses tree thinning around the home (good information for people with big trees on their properties), the other part addresses forest health. There were a lot of points to sell me on the idea of tree thinning, but there was one that stood out in particular: tree thinning is helpful for reducing wildfire threat. Thinner tree stands means less fuel so that a fire won’t burn so intensely. It also means that fire will stay closer to the ground so that the big, healthy trees won’t catch easily. Read the paper here.

Understanding how Christmas tree cutting allows predetermined areas to be thinned for the betterment of the forest has eased my guilty conscience greatly.

This year’s tree hunt was one of my favorites yet. My tree is stunning, and the forest we left behind will be healthier and will hopefully fare better in a wildfire, thanks to our family tradition.

 Happy Holidays!

 Natalie Newcomer


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All Good Reasons for Yard Work

It seems like the holidays are a perfect reason to justify making sure the house and yard are in good shape. A recent conversation with my mother, in which she declared her intentions to come for dinner, visit with her grand dogs, and see my fall decorations, had me running for the garage and the rake.

Truth be told, my yard was a bit of a mess. I can always think of something better to do than to clean up the flower beds beneath my front window, pick the dried grasses out of my rock garden, and rake up the pine needles, pine cones, and cottonwood leaves in my back yard.

This may be a bit farfetched, but I’d like to suggest that wildfires and mothers have something in common: you really can’t predict when they’re going to turn up.

I’ve heard it said that an ember can travel a mile ahead of a wildfire. This would mean that even if a house is out of the way of a fire, a traveling ember can lodge itself in a dry place and ignite. The Living With Fire website features an interactive display that shows 20 places around a house that are vulnerable to embers; dead plant matter is a major contributor to the list of potential hazards. Check it out here to see where your house may be vulnerable.

My work was cut out for me. I checked my roof for rogue plant matter, cleaned leaves and pine needles out of the rain gutters, scavenged the debris out from underneath my deck (that was terrifying), cleared away all dead grasses and leaves out from my flowerbed and from under bushes, and raked up the debris and leaves that had collected by my fence.

After an afternoon of muddy boots, endless trash bags, and blue fingers – honestly, Natalie, way to wait until it’s 40 degrees outside to do yard work – my house is a little more ready to survive a wildfire, a wind-blown ember, and a visit from my mother.

Happy raking!

Natalie Newcomer

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An Unexpected Neighbor

Join us as we follow Natalie Newcomer’s journey through the perils and joys of living in the wildland-urban interface.

Autumn at the new house has been unbelievable. The cottonwoods around the nearby stream have dropped their bright gold leaves and the sagebrush behind the house has taken on a whole new smell: it’s crisper, cleaner, and headier.

When buying my house I thought only about the price, the beauty of the surrounding neighborhood and land, and the great schools my kids would be zoned for. It wasn’t until I spoke with a neighbor that the dots began to connect: my little community was smack dab in the middle of fire country. It turns out there’s a technical term for it: the wildland-urban interface. I chose a house on the edge of the wildland, and now a fire could run right up to my doorstep. So much for tarantulas and scorpions being the worst of my problems!

What is a homeowner to do? This is what insurance is for, right? Isn’t the best I can hope for is enough notice to evacuate my animals and prized possessions before we’re toast? Apparently not.

The Reno Gazette-Journal published a piece on Saturday about the two year anniversary of the Caughlin Fire. It talked about the chaos residents experienced during their middle of the night evacuations and the key issues that caused homes to burn. The author stakes the claim that these things could have been averted. People can have materials ready for evacuation, and practices around the home can give a structure a chance to survive against a storm of embers.

Exploring the Living With Fire website, referenced at the end of the article, I found a wealth of information on how to give my house a chance in a fire, and the firefighters a better opportunity to save it. Nevadans are industrious and ever expanding. We live in areas, even in the midst of cities and towns, that are wildfire prone. The costs can be high, but the rewards are endless with gorgeous skies, abundant wildlife, and rugged and beautiful Great Basin vegetation.

Join me as I learn about how to adapt to be part of a thriving and wildfire-safe community in a state where fire is part of the natural lifecycle!

More to come soon!

Natalie Newcomer

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Tips to Avoid a Candle-Related Holiday Tragedy

I’d like to share some important suggestions from the Reno Fire Department on ways to help avoid a candle-related holiday tragedy.

Area residents need to remember that while candles bring an added element to holiday celebration, the open flame of a candle can easily and quickly ignite any combustible that is close by such as curtains, draperies, bedding and holiday decorations.

“The holidays present great potential for candle related home fires,” says Interim Reno Fire Marshal Dave Cochran. “Statistics show the top five days for home candle fires are
Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, and Halloween.”

The Reno Fire Department suggests the following safety tips to help avoid a candle-related holiday tragedy from occurring:

• If possible, avoid using lighted candles.

• Use battery operated flameless candles as an alternative to traditional open flame candles.

• If you must use candles, ensure that they are placed in sturdy holders.

• Use candle holders in sturdy metal, glass or ceramic holders that are placed where they won’t tip over easily. Be sure they are large enough to collect dripping wax.

• Never use candles on live or artificial Christmas trees.

• Keep candles away from items that can catch fire such as holiday decorations, curtains and draperies, bedding, clothing, books, etc.

• Always extinguish all candles when leaving the room or going to sleep.

• Never leave your home with candles burning, and do not leave candles burning unattended.

• Keep candles and all open flames away from flammable liquids.

• Keep candle wicks trimmed to one-quarter inch, and extinguish taper and pillar candles when they get to within two inches of the holders. Votive candles and containers should be extinguished before the last half-inch of wax starts to melt.

“The majority of candle fires are preventable, advises Cochran. “By following a few candle fire safety tips, everyone can enjoy a safe and happy holiday season.”

The Reno Fire Department would like to wish everyone a safe holiday season. For more information on holiday safety tips or fire safety contact the Reno Fire Department’s Division of Fire Prevention at 334-2300.

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How do you eat an elephant?

I just read this great post from Keith Worley, Firewise Regional Advisor, Southwest 2, and felt it was worth reposting.  It fits nicely with our message of the past few years….”Wildfire Survival – It Takes A Community”….in this case, to eat that elephant!  Read on….

Q. How do you eat an elephant?  A. One bite at a time.

A silly riddle, but applicable to us who live in the Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI is pronounced woo-eee, and said with feeling).  Eating an elephant is a big job and best not done alone.  We each have our individual elephants to eat by mitigating our properties in our quest to become Firewise.  I can attest it is a long, arduous and often painful task that never seems to end.  And, just about the time I think I’m done, it’s time to start over again.

I’ve had the privilege (and pleasure) of working with other communities over the years who recognized they had a wildfire problem and became Firewise Communities.  Let me share with you what I’ve learned:

First, “the Organized Bird Gets the Worm.”  So, get organized.  In this time of tight budgets and limited funding, it is no longer the early bird that gets the worm; it’s the organized bird. Team up with your local natural resource managers and fire department to assess your wildfire risks, followed by developing a plan of actionable items your community can accomplish.  This does several things for your community: 1) it lets others know your community has acknowledged its wildfire exposure and is ready to begin the journey on the path to becoming Firewise; 2) it allows local resources to economize on their limited time by the community taking on more of the role for education and community project planning; and 3) being organized empowers the community as a much stronger voice when requesting grant funding and getting the attention of abutting public land managers.

Second, “Eating an Elephant Takes a Village.”  OK, your pet elephant just died in the front yard. (Mine was pink!)  Once the grieving is over, how do we get it into the soup pot?  In our case, the elephant is the huge volume of fuel we need to remove from around our homes and communities.  The trees and brush we’ve cut are now a huge pile of slash in the front yard.  This roulette is where thinking like a village comes into play.  Organizing chipping days, negotiating discount rates with mitigation contractors, or developing your own community based solutions to slash disposal are how we’re going to get this elephant in the pot.  Learn how over 800 other “villages”are eating their elephants as Firewise Communities by visiting www.firewise.org.

Finally, “Show Me the Grant Money (maybe).”  The most common complaint I hear is, “We can’t do anything about the fire danger unless we get a grant.”  Not true.  It will just take longer to reduce the wildfire hazard.  But, it can and is being done across the nation as organized communities develop local solutions to solving their fuel (elephant) issues.  Also be aware, grantors are starting to ask: “Where’s your plan, are you organized, and what are you already doing?  What partnerships have you formed?”  Competition is fierce out there, so get going, and don’t give up.

In order to make our task of being Firewise easier, we must first, recognize that only one person can truly affect what happens on your property:you.  Then you can begin your quest for knowledge to learn how you can reduce your risks of wildfire loses.  You are not alone.  You and your neighbors are going through the same experiences.  Resolve to begin working together to solve both yours and your neighborhood’s wildfire risks.  The easiest way is to become a Firewise Community.  Learn about becoming a Firewise Community at www.firewise.org/usa.


Note:  No elephants, birds or worms were harmed in the writing of this blog.

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Make a kit, Make a plan, Stay informed and Be prepared!

Submitted by Mimi Fujii-Strickler, Truckee River Flood Project

Note that these recommendations will help you prepare for a wildfire emergency as well!

In honor of September as National Preparedness Month,
the Washoe County Emergency Preparedness Council is sending out personal preparedness tips regarding how to be prepared and ready for disasters or emergencies.  We know that all types of disasters can happen at any time and anywhere, and I am very happy to share the first excellent tip with you, your family, or business  in preparing your emergency kit. Here at the Truckee River Flood Project, we encourage all of you to make a kit, make a plan, stay informed, and be prepared!!!

Preparedness Tip #1: Make an Emergency Kit!

An emergency kit is simply a collection of basic items you may need in the event of an emergency. The items in this kit will be necessary if you will need to shelter-in-place or evacuate.  Assemble your kit well in advance of an emergency, and update annually.  Store supplies in an easy-to-carry containers, such as backpacks or duffle bags.  Include items such as:

  • At least a 72-hour supply of water (one gallon per person per day).  Identify the storage date and replace every six months.
  • At least a 72-hour supply of non-perishable packaged or canned food.  Learn more about putting together an emergency stockpile with healthy food at:  http://www.getreadyforflu.org/new_pg_advice_healthystockpile.htm
  • Non-electric can opener.
  • Change of clothing, rain gear, and sturdy shoes for every person in your household.
  • Blankets and/or sleeping bags.
  • First aid kit and prescription medications.
  • Battery-powered radio, flashlight, and plenty of extra batteries.
  • Credit cards and cash.
  • Extra set of car keys.
  • List of important family information; the style and serial number of medical devices.
  • Special items for infants, elderly, or disabled family members.
  • Don’t forget Fido and Fluffy! Include dry pet food, kitty litter, medications and water

For more information about building your emergency kit, please visit: http://www.washoecounty.us/em/supplykit.html

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Mt. Charleston Residents Prepare For Wildfire

Submitted by Kim Otero, Nevada Fire Safe Council

Mt. Charleston residents are closely following wildfire activity in the western United States. Each new reported fire serves as reminder that Kyle Canyon in the Spring Mountains is rated extreme for wildfire.  ”Preparation is the key to having any chance of surviving a wildfire,” said Mt. Charleston Volunteer Fire Department Chief Dave Martin.

Residents prepare for each fire season by raking pine needles, clearing brush and checking their properties for areas where an ember could land and spark a fire.  Preparations began this year the first week of June with the Pine Needle Pick Up.

The Nevada Division of Forestry (NDF) also plays an important role in protecting the mountain against wildfire.  Staffed 24/7, NDF crews are first on scene when wildfire strikes. NDF crews are joined by mountain resident Clark County Fire Department volunteers from Station 81 who are also certified to fight wildland fires.”We run volunteers through the same basic wildland training as the NDF crews.  Each year, red carded volunteers have to re-certify to prepare to fight wildfire. The NDF crews and volunteers are trained to be able to work side by side,” said Mike Johnson, Assistant Chief with the Clark County Fire Department

It is the volunteers from Station 81 and the NDF crews who appreciate the efforts to prepare the mountain to survive a wildfire. “Anytime you enter a fire scene you are at risk. When you help to reduce the risk of the spread of wildfire you are also protecting your fire crews,” said Kim Otero with the Nevada Fire Safe Council.

Residents raked, bagged and disposed of close to 20 tons of dead vegetation in dumpsters donated by Republic Services.  The creek bed running through the Old Town subdivision was cleared of several tons of dried branches and pine needles by the Clark County Fire Department Explorers. “The service the Explorers have provided is invaluable,” said Liz Claggett, a property owner whose mountain home backs up to the creek bed.  “The lots in Old Town are small, and the houses are close together.  A fire running through the creek bed could easily ignite half of the homes in Old Town.  The residents don’t have the capacity to work as hard and as fast as the Explorers, so their help was certainly appreciated,” Claggett said.

This year marked the fourth time Spring Mountain Youth Camp crews and Westcare
residents participated in the clean-up. Working several days before and after the event, the youth and Westcare residents raked pine needles on several properties belonging to seniors and disabled residents. ”Their efforts made a big difference, and we appreciate their help,” said Tom Padden, leader of the Mt. Charleston Chapter of the Nevada Fire Safe Council. “It takes a lot of work and a big commitment to reduce the threat of wildfire on mountain properties,” said Becky Grismanauskas, a member of the Mt. Charleston Town Advisory Board.  “The fact of the matter is that when the Clark County Fire Department Explorers, the Spring Mountain Youth Camp and the Westcare residents come up and assist residents in reducing the threat of wildfire they are protecting the mountain for both the residents and visitors.  The Mountain is a special place for everyone to enjoy.  We all need to do our part to protect the Spring Mountains from wildfire danger.”


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