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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Igniting a Friendly Fire

eds-prescribed-fire-picture

Photograph courtesy of North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District

Have you seen smoke in the distance and a sign on the road that states, “Prescribed Fire Do Not Report”? Typically these areas or roads are blocked off to the public as fire crews deliberately set fires according to carefully developed procedures. This prescribed burning is used to restore forest health and reduce the wildfire threat. In the fall of 2011, I had the opportunity to attend a prescribed burn in Tunnel Creek in the Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park.  As an element of my master’s thesis project, I lugged camera equipment to the site and took photos 360 degrees around to create a virtual reality (VR). I wanted to interactively communicate the importance of prescribed fire in the Lake Tahoe Basin.  To properly view the VR, turn on the volume to hear Forester Rich Harvey speak about the prescribed fire. You can click and move your mouse across the stitched photos to view the 360 degree panorama faster, and place your cursor over the blue buttons with the lower case “i” to read more information. Adobe Flash is required on your computer to view the VR.  The Tunnel Creek burns were conducted by the Nevada Division of Forestry in cooperation with the Division of State Parks, Division of State Lands and the North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District.  It was a rare opportunity and an exciting day for me to observe the care taken by the fire crew and the natural work that fire accomplishes to keep a forest healthy.

Click HERE to view the Virtual Reality. Be patient, it may take a few moments to open.

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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Inventory my belongings?

If a fire destroyed your home, would you be able to remember the estimated value and age of all your possessions for insurance purposes? Yea, me neither! Since September is National Preparedness Month, I started an inventory of my personal belongings. It’s important as it provides an accurate record of a homeowner’s possessions, helps process insurance claims faster, and helps one purchase the correct amount of insurance. The inventory is critical to document losses due to fire but also to other causes such as flooding, burglary, and vandalism.

Below I review three recommended methods to inventory one’s belongings. While there may be other options, the important thing is to pick one and become prepared during National Preparedness Month!

A representative from the Nevada Division of Insurance recommended utilizing either a free smart phone app or a PDF inventory sheet created by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC).  In addition, the Living With Fire (LWF) Program also has a more detailed inventory sheet.

1screenshot_20160908-130836

An example of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners Scr.APP.book app on a smartphone

Both the smartphone App and PDF inventory sheet can be found at the following link: http://www.insureuonline.org/insureu_special_disaster.htm

One can always install the app on their smart phone by searching for Scr.APP.book (see above). The app’s interface is very user friendly and makes it easy to upload photos. Once the app is installed, click the icon, “ADD ITEM” and complete the screen (see above). One can take multiple photos of the item by clicking the camera button at the top, taking a photo and then clicking “OK”. The information entered on the form can be retained by clicking the save button. To view the items already input into the form, click the item list and edit information if necessary. An individual form must be completed for each item in the home. This information can then be exported from the app to be e-mailed, or saved to a computer or flash drive. Additionally, there are tips and resources on the app to connect to the NAIC and become more informed regarding advisable insurance coverage.

naic-checklist-pdf

A screenshot of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners home inventory checklist PDF

The PDF inventory sheet is also easy to use but, unlike the app, users must first print the form, record the information by hand and attach separate pictures to the inventory sheet (see above).  Each item’s information such as item identification, price, date purchased, and brand name must be entered on the form for each separate room. The completed form along with photographs can then be retained as a hard copy.  Users must remember to keep the inventory sheet and photos separate from the house. This ensures that in the event of a disaster, the inventory sheet is not destroyed along with the house. Here is a direct link to print the inventory checklist:

http://www.insureuonline.org/home_inventory_checklist.pdf

weblwf-household-inventory-checklist

Above is a view of the My Household Inventory Checklist by the Living With Fire Program

Unlike the NAIC form, item information can be entered and edited directly on a computer and can be saved to a drive, thumb drive, etc. (see above).  This inventory sheet asks for more information than the NAIC options, BUT also provides users with a more detailed inventory of belongings. The inventory sheet suggests considering items that I normally wouldn’t have, including silverware, clothing, tools, and recreation equipment. The LWF Program inventory also explains how to calculate the current cash value of items and recommends including this as part of the record. While calculating the current cash value of each item isn’t necessary, it helps to estimate the item’s worth for insurance reimbursement purposes. As with the NAIC PDF inventory sheet, pictures must be taken of the items and attached or saved to the PDF. To download this method, click here: http://www.livingwithfire.info/how-we-can-help and scroll down to the “Household Inventory Program” tab.

Out of all three options, I felt that the smartphone app was by far the easiest to use because my smart phone’s camera is linked to the app. The app stores the photos and inventory information all in one place. If I were to complete the other two inventory sheets, I would need to take a photo of each item, print it out, or save it digitally and link it to the completed form. However, I do recommend reviewing the Living With Fire Program’s inventory sheet as it made me consider adding other items that I wouldn’t have otherwise considered.  Overall, this process is very time consuming as it took me a total of two hours to document only six items on the app. It’s recommended to inventory one’s belongings for a couple of hours each weekend to prevent documentation burn out. I began my inventory process with the larger, more recently purchased items however after reviewing the LWF inventory, I’ll need to include more of a detailed list such as my silverware and clothing. I’ve started keeping copies of my receipts for my purchased items, making it easier to look up the brand, item’s name, price, etc.  Remember it’s better to have an incomplete list rather than no list at all.  Once your list is complete, store it in a safety deposit box, save a digital copy, or place a copy with a trusted friend or family member. Just ensure the inventory is not destroyed if your house is a total loss.

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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