A close call during the Driscoll Fire

As the Living With Fire Outreach Coordinator, knowing quick updates of current fires is important so we can notify our audience via social media. On Wednesday, I scrolled through Twitter to learn more about the Hawken Fire and I read a Reno Fire Department tweet, “Crews on the scene of another fire threatening structures off of Driscoll Dr. Fire attack is underway #DriscollFire.” My blood ran cold. That’s near my house. Adrenaline pumped through my body as I raced my car from the office to my house. Once in my neighborhood, I was stopped by Reno Police Department and was forced to park my vehicle one-third of a mile away from my house. I got out and literally ran up steep streets to grab my dog and personal belongings.  The closer to my house, the more the streets were cluttered with fire engines, NV Energy vehicles, unmarked white trucks and Volunteer Search and Rescue vehicles. Fire hoses ran along the street and water trickled from them down the pavement. Once I reached the corner of my street, some of my neighbors congregated  and watched firefighters spray water at the charred, smoking fire scar. The fire was mostly contained and except for one damaged structure, all homes were saved. A wave of relief came over me. We are safe. Thank goodness for the swift action of the Reno Fire Department and other emergency responders. Fire season is upon us, and it’s important to be prepared for potential evacuations. I was not prepared this time.

A scene of the Driscoll fire and emergency responders

A scene of the Driscoll fire and emergency responders

The Living With Fire website has interactive multimedia that explains what you can do during a fire , as well as an evacuation checklist .

For example, did you consider that you should take important documents such as bank, IRS, trust, investment, insurance policies, birth certificates, marriage certificates, death certificates, medical and immunization records, wills, contracts, titles and deeds? Or did you think to bring your pet’s medication and vaccination information? It’s also a good idea to have pictures of your animal that show distinguishing marks just in case your pet gets lost. I never considered any of these, but now I have a box of these documents and pictures that I can grab if I’m forced to quickly evacuate. Now I am prepared for the next time.

Please take the time to check out these links. Stay tuned for other blogs on my experiences of a homeowner in a fire prone area.

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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The Trials and Tribulations of Older-Home Ownership

As the new Outreach Coordinator with the Living With Fire Program, I thought it was fitting to share my trials and tribulations as an owner of an older home in a fire prone area. In 2014 my husband and I purchased our dream home which is nestled in the hills of old Southwest Reno. As first-time homebuyers of a 46 year old home, we discovered the learning curve was steep regarding proper landscape maintenance. I used to look at my yard and shake my head in disbelief and wonder, “Where do I start?” Wait…who am I kidding, I still do that!

The picture marked “Before” is a Google photo of our front yard before we purchased the home. The number “1” represents the ornamental junipers. The number “2” marks the cedar trees. The picture marked “After” is what our home looks like today.

google photo front yard 2011After front yard photo blog 1

After comparing the “before” and “after” photos, it’s apparent that we removed the junipers and cedars. Junipers are bad news during a wildfire because embers can become lodged within them, smolder, ignite and burn at high intensity later after firefighters leave. Firefighters often refer to junipers as “little green gas cans”. I knew these plants were flammable in a wildfire and I ensured this was one of the first plants to remove. The homeowners before me also planted two cedar trees up against the house. The overgrown trees had grown into the roof eaves and were touching the house. This is also a fire hazard and during my first week on the job, I learned that evergreen shrubs such as junipers and trees such as cedar should be located a minimum of 30 feet from the house. In the “after” photo, you can see that these evergreens were removed.

Also in the “after” photo, one can see that we replaced our landscape rock with shredded wood mulch. Unfortunately, on the FIRST day of my job I learned that a home with mulch within the first five feet of a home is NOT desirable. Embers from a wildfire can ignite the mulch, and produce flames next to the house. I also learned that embers are the main reason why homes catch fire during a wildfire. While mulch is aesthetically pleasing, I urge others to not make the same mistake as me and instead use landscape rock, gravel, hard surfaces or herbaceous plants. (Now I have the lovely task of convincing my husband that the mulch MUST be replaced.)

While I have more work ahead of me, these are some of my lessons and experiences as I brave the world of homeownership. To those interested, I highly recommend looking at the publication, “Choosing the Right Plants”. Stay tuned for more of my trials and tribulations!

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 her husband and their mini Australian Shepard. Contact Jamie at 775-336-0261 or [email protected]

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May Means Nevada Wildfire Awareness Month

NWAM Poster 2016.smThe month of May means a lot of things to a lot of different people…great weather, springtime in full gear and school graduations. To the Living With Fire team and our many program partners, May means Nevada Wildfire Awareness Month. The purpose of this effort is to promote wildfire awareness and encourage action. Starting in 2006 as Nevada Wildfire Awareness Week, the program was expanded to the entire month of May to accommodate the growing number of events and activities. Last year, 156 partnering organizations carried out 190 wildfire awareness activities statewide.

This year’s theme is “Create Unity… Fire-Adapt Your Community.” When community members work together to prepare for wildfire, they can effectively reduce the wildfire threat. Go to  http://www.livingwithfire.info/wildfire-awareness-month to learn about activities that will be held near you. You can also order support materials and download an event flyer template if you want to sponsor event in your community.


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Fire Adapted Means Being Fire Prepared

Wellington Crescent Photo

Carson City’s Wellington Crescent subdivision was threatened by the Waterfall Fire in 2004. Elements of a Fire Adapted Community, including a community fuelbreak, good access, ignition-resistant building construction and defensible landscapes all helped ensure that no homes or lives were lost.

Dr. Elwood Miller helps you understand Fire Adapted Communities:

As coordinator of the Nevada Network of Fire Adapted Communities, I keep hearing the questions, “What is a Fire Adapted Community?” and “How do you become one?” These questions keep coming up in conferences, small group meetings and individual conversations. By now, numerous definitions have been developed which undoubtedly leads to more confusion and more questions.  Rather than develop yet another definition, I thought a focus on the core concepts may be more helpful.  At the heart of the term, Fire Adapted Community is a mission of survival; survival of people and the place they call home.  And, not only survival, but survival achieved with a minimum involvement of firefighters and their suppression resources. But, how is that possible?  The answer is pre-fire preparation.  In other words, a Fire Adapted Community is one that is fully prepared for the occurrence of wildfire.  It is one where a community of like-minded residents has worked to instill a culture of fire in their community.  It is one where the people have envisioned what it will be like when flames, blowing embers and smoke surround their homes and envelope their neighborhoods and they have mentally prepared themselves for that occurrence.  They have fully accepted their vulnerability and have developed plans to take the steps necessary to ensure their survival.  More than that, they have also taken action to modify their house and the fuels that surround it to make it as difficult as possible for fires to ignite, grow and spread.  In doing this they not only increase the probability that they and their home will survive but they also greatly increase the element of safety for the firefighters that do arrive to provide assistance. Create unity with pre-fire preparation that is broadly accepted, supported, and applied.  That is the key to becoming a Fire Adapted Community. Detailed information on what you need to do, and how to prepare your home and community for wildfire is available at LivingWithFire.info.  Join the Nevada Network of Fire Adapted Communities to connect with others facing the same vulnerability and seeking to increase their chances of survival.  Being fully prepared is what being fire adapted is all about.

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Fire Whirls

Image Source: Wikipedia

Image Source: Wikipedia

Did you know that I grew up in Illinois? Yup… the good ol’ Midwest. We don’t live with the threat of wildfire in that neck of the woods – our “gift” from Mother Nature comes in the form of a mighty whirlwind called a tornado. When I moved to Reno, I thought I had mostly escaped tornadoes … but did you know there is such a thing as a “fire tornado” … otherwise known as a “fire whirl”? This event, although rare, is highly destructive and occurs when a fire is whipped up by strong, hot, dry air currents to form a vertical whirl – literally creating a tornado full of fire!  Their occurrence is not only visually spectacular but alerts firefighters of very unstable air and extreme fire behavior.

Fire whirls can uproot trees and can carry flaming debris great distances! Some of the largest fire whirls can be more than half a mile tall, produce winds over 100 mph and last for more than 20 minutes. Not surprisingly, these flaming tornadoes can ignite new fires by moving into unburned territory. Fire whirls are so threatening, that virtually all state forestry services include fire whirl basics in their training. I don’t know about you, but I am happy that I won’t have to deal with them anytime soon. It definitely helps me to appreciate my firefighters that much more and peaks my awareness level about MY part in being prepared for wildfires. Remember, that while our friend Smokey Bear says … only YOU can prevent wildfires, it is also true that only WE can prepare our homes for wildfire when it occurs. Check out how you can prepare your home for wildfire here!

Do you have any experiences with fire whirls? Please share your stories in the comments below!

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Emergency Notification Systems

Washoe County's CodeRED logo

Washoe County’s CodeRED logo

In July’s post (which you can read here), I talked about the importance of creating a Family Emergency Plan in order to prepare for wildfire. Since I really had no clue what I would do in a real-life evacuation, I decided to do a little research. I inquired about evacuation routes and found out that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach for everyone. This is because each incident is different and the routes are difficult to predict. So, it was recommended that I sign up for my specific location’s emergency notification system. For me, this service is Washoe County Code Red. The Code Red Notification system, which is easy and free to sign up for, uses a series of remote computers and telephone lines to relay a recorded message during an emergency. The notifications can be sent to multiple phone lines and email addresses, and will give you specific instructions as to how to respond to an emergency in your area.

It’s also important to pay attention to announcements on the radio or TV and the Emergency Alert System in terms of getting information on a current emergency situation. Social media can be helpful as well. I know that not everyone likes (or understands) social media, but it really is a valuable tool for officials to send information quickly to a large amount of people. I bet your local emergency services department has a social media account! Washoe County’s Facebook page can be found here.

So, I signed up for Code Red and feel a bit more at ease in terms of what to do in an emergency with this information. Why not take some time right now to learn about your area’s emergency notification systems? A good place to start is by calling your county’s emergency management department, local fire department or Sheriff’s department. If you live in Washoe County and would like to sign up for CODE Red, visit their site here. And check out our Wildfire Evacuation Checklist here for more tips on how to prepare for a wildfire evacuation!

Share with us what you learned about your area’s emergency notification systems in the comments. Together, we can all be informed!

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Goat Grazing for Fuel Reduction

goats grazingHey Living With Fire friends, welcome back to our blog! I’m still working on my defensible space and evacuation plan from previous weeks (you can check those posts out here and here).

Today we have something new for you: our very first video blog! In it, we share what happened on my walk a few days ago at Anderson Park in Reno, NV. I was so excited to enjoy one of my favorite walking trails, but discovered that the trail was closed off. Fortunately, our fellow Living With Fire friend, Vince Thomas, was on site and I discussed with him what was going on. You see, he was hired by Washoe Parks and Open Spaces on a grant provided by the Nevada Land Trust, to fix the situation at hand. The trail was closed off due to being overgrown with weeds and brush, which is not only bad for walkers, but is also a wildfire hazard! Luckily, Vince, the owner of Goat Grazers, was put in charge to clear the trail.

In our video blog we discuss what Goat Grazers is, and how they will help the overgrown trail. Let us know in the comments what you think about our first video blog and if you would like us to continue making them. And if you want a good laugh, be sure to check out our second video for some funny “behind-the-scenes” footage.

(Special Note: The information given herein is supplied with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement by Cooperative Extension is implied.)


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Am I Prepared for Wildfire?

To-go bag essentials

To-go bag essentials

I was talking with my friend, Jed Horan, from the North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District and he suggested I write a blog on the importance of having an evacuation plan, knowing a route out of my neighborhood and what to do if that evacuation route was blocked.

What a great idea, I thought…

However, once I sat down to write this article, I realized a couple of things:

  1. My husband and I are not prepared for a real life evacuation at all, and
  2. Preparing for an evacuation is not a simple “one-size-fits-all” topic.

In order to set a good example, I want to start prepping now before it is too late. My first stop was to the Living With Fire website where I discovered some general wildfire evacuation preparation guidelines that can help beginners, like me, get started. Writing this blog really got me thinking about important subjects that I had not thought of before such as:

  • Creating a Family Emergency Plan
    • Who would my husband and I contact? And how?
    • Where would we meet?
    • What would we take?
    • Where is our escape route and safe place?
    • Do we know how to turn off the water, gas and electricity?
  • Essentials for a “to-go” bag (click here for tips)
  • Disaster Supply Kits (tips on making this kit here)
  • Preparing for Pets
    • What if our dog, Bella, was at doggy daycare? Do they have an emergency response plan?
    • Don’t forget about pet food!

I don’t know about you, but I am glad my Living With Fire teammates brought this to my attention. Wildfires are inevitable – so preparing for them in advance can help ease your stress a bit. I’ve got a lot of planning ahead of me, but feel free to follow me and join in on my journey as I tackle each one of these steps. I’ll keep you updated on my progress here and you can help hold me accountable! Meanwhile, I’m still working on my defensible space from last month … click here to see that post.

What about you? Are you prepared for a wildfire evacuation?  Do you have any tips to help me prepare?

Comment below!

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Defensible Space and the New Homeowner


What type of tree is this?

My husband, Marc, and I purchased a home last month in Reno. We are both first time home owners in a brand new development and I must say it has been a fun, yet educational, journey. As a newbie to the Living With Fire team, I find myself hyper-aware of all the potential fire risks.

Marc laughs at me because I tend to take safety manners VERY seriously and I find myself getting worked up when I learn new things. However, he was operating under the assumption that, although the fire risk is real, there really isn’t anything we can do about it.

Boy is he lucky to have me and my team around because there is PLENTY we can do to prepare. I’m not even going to get into my neighborhood as a whole (yet…), but our specific household has a nice wood fence connected to the house. Right up against the fence is a beautiful evergreen tree that appears to be getting a bit dry. I’m not 100% sure what kind of tree it is (I will need to contact a Master Gardener to help me with that) but it seems like a potential risk to me. Marc also laughed when I told him my plans to contact the landscaper about fire-safe plants. Why not when we have this beautiful plant guide available … for FREE!?

I also haven’t gotten around to investigating whether or not the eave vents on our house have screens on them (to be honest, I didn’t even know what an “eave” was…). But, I learned about them at the West Washoe Valley Wildfire Preparedness meeting I attended last month and I am hoping to prepare my defensible space as soon as possible. Maybe all you readers out there can help hold me accountable…

What else do you think I need to look into? Any advice for the “new girl”?

Comment below!

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Junk Those Junipers!

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAI was out for a walk in the cool of the morning a few days ago and noticed a neighbor working hard to replace some shrubs that had evidently died over the winter. He was starting to dig holes next to the foundation and had potted ornamental junipers all spaced out ready to put in the ground. “Looks like you have a big job” I said as I strolled up his drive. He looked up and remarked, “Yes I do and as soon as I get some breakfast those junipers are going in the holes.” He added that he chose junipers because he was tired of replacing dead shrubs and knew they would survive, even in the current drought conditions. As he disappeared into his house, I thought this is not a good idea. When considering landscape plants, survivability is not the only thing you want to think about. Since we live in a wildfire prone area, we also need to consider how easily plants will catch fire in an ember storm and how hot they will burn. I remember seeing a news report where a fire official called junipers “gasoline plants”. I learned that junipers contain high amounts of oils and resins and serve as traps for dead leaves and other litter. Glowing embers that blow into them during a wildfire, or even a carelessly discarded cigarette or match can easily catch junipers on fire and they burn really hot. That doesn’t sound very fire safe and certainly not part of an effective defensible space, especially not right against your house.

I hurried home and opened the Living With Fire website…my most readily available and reliable source of information on wildfire threat reduction. Sure enough, my memory was correct and people are strongly discouraged from planting junipers within the first 30 feet from their home. Luckily, there are two upcoming events where homeowners are encouraged to remove junipers from their landscape and replant with better plant choices. They can then drop off the junipers at no charge at one of two locations. The first is May 16th at the Nevada Division of Forestry location on East Lake Blvd. in Washoe Valley, and the second event is May 23rd at the Silver Lake Fire Station with the help of the Bureau of Land Management and Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District. Moana Nursery is even giving out discount coupons to participants, and University of Nevada Cooperative Extension’s Living With Fire Program representatives will be on hand as well. I found all the details on the website’s Calendar of Events . I also found a lengthy list of plants adapted to our region that are more resistant to ignition and burning called “Choosing the Right Plants for Northern Nevada’s High Fire Hazard Environments.” Armed with the information ammunition I need, I am going to return and see if I can persuade my neighbor to get a refund on those gasoline plants and make some better choices to improve his defensible space landscape.  Wish me luck!


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