Defensible Space: Your Home, Your Vegetation, Your Responsibility!

When it comes to wildfire, Nevada is confronted with a dire prediction: fires are forecast to burn more frequently and more intensely in the future. Last winter’s Washoe Drive and Caughlin fires and the recent Topaz Ranch Estates fire south of Gardnerville, showed how uncontrollably a wildfire can burn through a community.

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 life and injury, minimize damage to homes, land and infrastructure, and reduce firefighting costs.

There are five critical elements of a FAC:

A picture of a grassy meadow with green trees and a dry creek bed down the center of the picture.

This green belt in Reno’s Caughlin Ranch serves as a fuelbreak and provides community protection.

1. Creating areas that provide community protection,

2. Establishing effective defensible space,

3. Providing adequate access,

4. Using appropriate building materials and maintenance techniques, and

5. Preparing for evacuation.

It’s particularly important that residents learn how create effective defensible space and then maintain it. Creating an effective defensible space serves critical functions like:

  • Making fires less likely to start when burning embers are swirling about,
  • Decreasing flame lengths, which can prevent fire from traveling into tree canopies, and
  • Shortening the amount of time a fire burns on your property.

Removing dead vegetation, lower tree limbs, thinning dense stands of trees and brush, and creating breaks in fields of cheatgrass are effective defensible space techniques.

Topaz Ranch Estate resident Estelle Whalen said defensible space is what saved her home from being destroyed when the wind rapidly drove a recent wildfire across her property. “The fire stopped right at the areas I cleared. Everything around the cleared paths was on fire, cheatgrass and brush and trees were burning.”

Defensible space has been attributed to many homes surviving recent western Nevada wildfires and as most homeowners find out, an effective defensible space doesn’t have to mean creating a large expanse of bare ground around your home. The property can still look appealing, while creating a safer area in which to defend the home. And even if firefighters are not available, defensible space improves the likelihood of a home surviving without assistance.

A homeowner can have both an effective defensible space and an attractive landscape.

It’s only June and experts are comparing the current condition of wildland fuels to those you typically find at the height of fire season. Dry fuels, a windy day and an ignition source could produce catastrophic conditions for many Nevada communities. There are some factors homeowners cannot control when a wildfire starts, but as a homeowner you own the fuels on your property and by creating defensible space, you can change how fire behaves as it approaches your home. The lean, clean and green area you create around your home today may be what saves your home should a wildfire threaten.

For more information on FACs and defensible space visit

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