Carson City Extension Educator JoAnne Skelly teaches residents affected by the Caughlin Fire about post-fire landscape care.

On November 18, 2011, a tree branch blew into a powerline igniting the Caughlin Fire in southwest Reno. Driven by winds gusting to 70 mph, the fire destroyed 26 homes and forced the evacuation of 10,000 residents. Two months later, the Washoe Drive fire occurred south of Reno destroying 29 homes. Cooperative Extension quickly responded to both events through the Living With Fire program.

As members of the Living With Fire team, Sonya Sistare and Grant Nejedlo sprang into action immediately upon receiving a local radio station’s text alert about the Caughlin Fire.  Sonya called the local network TV and radio stations to remind them of our evacuation instructions, conveniently placed in the information section of the Reno/Sparks AT &T Telephone Directory.  She also directed them to the LivingWithFire.info website for additional resources.  The Reno Gazette journal published the instructions the next day. Social media became another useful tool as she and Grant both began posting frequent comments on multiple Facebook pages including those of the local TV and radio stations, the Nevada Fire Safe Council and UNCE’s own Living With Fire Facebook page.  The evacuation instructions were also placed on the home page of the Living With Fire website, with easy access to a downloadable file.  Because of their actions, thousands of Reno homeowners had the benefit of knowing what they should wear, what they should take and how to leave their home.

Cooperative Extension’s Ed Smith organized the first public meeting for Caughlin Fire victims. The meeting provided a post-fire update by Washoe County and City of Reno officials and presentations from UNCE faculty concerning post-fire landscape care, what native plants will grow back, reseeding after wildfire and potential invasive weed issues. Approximately 130 individuals were present, including homeowners, elected officials and agency representatives.

A week after the Washoe Drive Fire, UNCE hosted a series of three evening presentations at Pleasant Valley Elementary School for people impacted by the fire. The first presentation was by the Nevada Division of Insurance and dealt with insurance coverage and filing a claim. The other presentations covered post-fire landscape care and preparing homes for embers during a wildfire. Approximately 200 people attended the three events.

Washoe County Manager Katy Simon stated afterwards, “Wow!  What a great job last night at the Caughlin Fire update!  I was so impressed and proud to watch the presentations last night!  You all showed the best of public service–who we are and what we stand for.  Your professional expertise, knowledge, planning ability, and execution were absolutely flawless and outstanding.  Thank you for all that you have done on this difficult project, and all that you continue to do, to provide exceptional public service to our community.”

For more information about fire adapted communities and reducing the wildfire threat, resources to help during an evacuation and advice on returning to a home and landscape following wildfire, go to our recently improved and updated website: LivingWithFire.info.