The bad news is wildfires are predicted to burn more frequently and more intensely in the future. Last winter’s Caughlin Fire and the Hawken Fire in 2007 provided residents of Caughlin Ranch a glimpse of how uncontrollably a wildfire could burn through the community and how little expectation we can have for a traditional fire season. The good news is a community in a wildfire-prone area can be designed and maintained to survive wildfire, even with little or no firefighter assistance. These neighborhoods are called Fire Adapted Communities (FAC) and during a wildfire they reduce the potential for loss of human life and injury, minimize damage to homes and infrastructure, and reduce firefighting costs. Given the history of wildfire surrounding Caughlin Ranch, becoming a FAC should be a goal for residents.
Carson City’s Wellington Crescent subdivision was threatened by the Waterfall Fire in 2004. The community fuelbreak, good access, ignition-resistant building construction and defensible landscapes helped ensure that no homes or lives were lost.
Creating FACs won’t happen overnight, but there are steps, even simple ones, that you can take today to make your family and property safer from the threat of wildfire. Last year, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, representatives from local, state and federal firefighting agencies and the Nevada Fire Safe Council compiled a checklist to help answer the question, How Do I Know if I Live in a Fire Adapted Community? Well…
It would have many of the following characteristics:
The residents would know how to:
Prepared residents know how to safely and effectively evacuate.
□ Prepare their homes and property to survive when wildfire is threatening. They have prepared and practiced a family emergency plan.
□ Dress and what to take when evacuating. They have prepared a to-go bag ahead of time.
□ Communicate with family members during an emergency.
□ Efficiently evacuate pets and large animals.
□ Receive timely updates on the status of the fire.
□ Identify fire hazards and understand local fire behavior.
□ Survive, if trapped by wildfire.
Residential landscapes would have:
A well-maintained area for a distance of at least 30 feet from the house that consists primarily of materials that are noncombustible, creates a defensible space for this home.
□ A noncombustible area within five feet of the house consisting of materials such as lawn and herbaceous flowers, gravel, rock and concrete.
□ A well-maintained area for a distance of at least 30 feet from the house that consists primarily of materials that are noncombustible, of low combustibility and/or low fuel volume such as lawn, herbaceous flowers, low-growing deciduous shrubs, gravel, concrete and rock. Wood and bark mulches would not be used in a widespread manner in this area.
□ Any highly combustible ornamental plants, such as Chinese juniper, other conifers and Scotch broom, located at least 30 feet from the house.
□ Any highly combustible wildland plants, such as sagebrush, bitterbrush, pinyon pine, Utah juniper and Manzanita, located at least 30 feet of the house. These plants would be thinned, have ladder fuels removed and be free of dead vegetation.
□ Any firewood stacks located at least 30 feet from the house.
The neighborhood would have:
Noncombustible fences and a fuelbreak, like this bike path along the perimeter of Wellington Crescent, offer community protection.
□ A park, playground, golf course or similar area that serves as a community safe area during a wildfire.
□ Noncombustible, reflective street signs with characters at least 4 inches high.
□ At least two ways in and out.
□ Turnarounds suitable for large fire equipment.
□ Streets at least 20 feet wide.
□ Well-maintained vacant lots free of dried grass and weeds.
□ A fuelbreak along the perimeter of the community that abuts adjacent residential landscapes.
□ An accessible and reliable water system.
Houses would have:
Using roof, siding and vent materials that are ember resistant reduces the likelihood this Wellington Crescent home will ignite.
□ Fire-rated roof coverings such as asphalt composition shingles, metal and tile.
□ Roof openings that are plugged, such as the open ends of barrel tiles.
□ Chimneys with approved spark arrestors.
□ Enclosed (boxed-in) eaves.
□ Attic, eave and foundation vent openings covered with 1/16- to 1/8-inch wire mesh or use ember and flame-resistant vents.
□ Double-pane or better windows.
□ Noncombustible or ignition-resistant siding such as stucco, fiber cement and brick.
□ Metal address signs that are readily visible from the street.
□ Decks constructed of fire or ignition-resistant materials. The sides of low decks would be enclosed.
□ Roofs, rain gutters, porches and decks free of pine needles, leaves and other combustible debris.
□ Exterior surfaces such as roofs, siding and windows maintained in good condition. Any gaps, such as those commonly occurring between siding and trim, are plugged.
□ Noncombustible fences or wood fences that are not connected to houses.
Hopefully you read through those characteristics of a FAC and more often than not found yourself saying “I know how to do that” or “my house and neighborhood look like that.” Checking every item off that list is a lofty goal and it’s unrealistic to expect Caughlin Ranch to instantaneously transform into a FAC. However, taking the steps toward becoming a FAC should be a priority when living in a fire-prone area and moving forward, Caughlin Ranch and its residents can consult these FAC concepts for all future decisions affecting its wildfire preparedness.
Click on the image to read the FAC guide for Washoe County.
When considering where to stack a wood pile – consult the FAC guide. When replacing siding or a roof, or when landscaping – remember that some materials and plants are more ignition-resistant than others. FACs are possible because of appropriate building construction, proper vegetation management, thoughtful community planning, a prepared fire service, and most importantly, proactive residents.
Remember each and every item checked off that list improves the chances you and your property can survive a wildfire, even if firefighters are not available. Wildfire survival takes a community and you can make a difference. To find out more about FACs visit LivingWithFire.info or join us on June 14 for a wildfire preparedness presentation in Caughlin Ranch. Click on the image below for more information.