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!

About the Author: Jenny Digesti is the Assistant for the Living With Fire Program. You can follow her on twitter here.

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!

About the Author: Jenny Digesti is the Assistant for the Living With Fire Program. You can follow her on twitter here.

Hey 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. Click here to see it! And if you want a good laugh, be sure to check out our second video for some funny “behind-the-scenes” footage (click here or the link below).

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

About the Author: Jenny Digesti is the Assistant for the Living With Fire Program. You can follow her on twitter here.

 

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!

About the Author: Jenny Digesti is the Assistant for the Living With Fire Program. You can follow her on twitter here.

tree

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!

About the Author: Jenny Digesti is the Assistant for the Living With Fire Program. You can follow her on twitter here.

Washoe LakeI am so excited! While doing my weekly perusal of the Living With Fire website , I discovered there is going to be Wildfire Awareness Half Marathon and 5K Trail Run on May 9th at Washoe Lake State Park as part of Nevada Wildfire Awareness Month. I’m not in half marathon shape, but the 5K is certainly in my wheel house. And trail running is so much more fun than jogging in town. I looked at the course map and it looks like parts of the trail will be along what formerly was the Washoe Lake shoreline… the lake has been disappearing before my eyes this year. Then the course continues into the “brushes”… you know, sagebrush, bitterbrush, rabbitbrush, etc. I am familiar with these brushes because they often fuel our wildfires. I read that one of the reasons they selected Washoe Lake State Park for this event was because the mountains surrounding it are covered with the scars of previous wildfires. A friend told me about the Washoe County GIS website  where you can see the boundaries of past wildfires since 1990. The fire scars are evidence that we live in a fire environment. To the south of the park you’ll see the fire scars from the Waterfall, Lakeview, Franktown and Duck Hill fires. Looking north you’ll see the Washoe Drive fire scar and others. Those fire scars are a good reminder that while I’m preparing myself for this run, I should also be preparing my home to survive the next wildfire.  For starters, I’ll clear up all the dead vegetation that has accumulated around my home over the winter.

Who wants to join me at the races?  The entry fee for the half-marathon or 5K is $35 with the proceeds donated to a great cause, the Wildland Firefighter Foundation. This nonprofit organization helps fallen firefighter’s families and firefighters injured in the line of duty and you can learn more about the organization or donate to them here. Smokey Bear will be there as well fire engines, exhibits and other activities. So even if you’re not running, there will be lots to see and do. Register for the run here, or go to the Living With Fire website for more information. If you live in Southern Nevada, don’t feel left out. There’s a Wildfire Awareness run at Red Rock Canyon National Park on May 30, and you can register for it here also. Maybe I’ll double my fun and run in both!

Cheers!    Natalie

Yesterday I picked up my mail and opened the agenda for our upcoming HOA Board meeting.  There in bold letters was the central item for discussion and decision – “Deepening Drought to Force Water Conservation and Landscape Maintenance Changes.”  I guess I knew this was coming but I felt something was missing.  What about discussing the impact of the drought on the growing threat of wildfire and what we are going to do about that?  I’m no expert, but common sense tells me that the lack of water means a greater amount of dry fuel and in turn, more severe wildfires!  I vividly recall the difference between a campfire burning with wet wood and one with dry wood.  So I took the time to call a local fire behavior expert, Mr. Sandy Munns and get his opinion on the effect of the drought on the danger of wildfire.  Mr. Munns is currently the Fire Training Program Coordinator at Truckee Meadows Community College.  He has years of experience fighting wildland fire and understands the effect of the environment on the way a fire burns.  And he sure had a lot to say!

He explained that drought is all about water.  Interestingly, so is wildland fire.  The amount of water in the dead and living vegetation is called fuel moisture and determines how hot the fire will burn.  When fuel burns, some of the heat produced is used to evaporate the fuel moisture.   The wetter the fuel the more heat is taken up to evaporate that water.  So fuel moisture can act like a brake and the higher it is the more it can just slow or calm things down.  We see this in the size of the flames.  Low fuel moisture means big flames.  In contrast, if fuel moisture is very high, the fire may not even ignite.

Drought has several impacts on fuel moisture.  First, while fine dead fuels like grass and weeds may change moisture content in as little as 1 hour, large fuels like limbs and logs, can take more than a month.  During a drought, these large fuels dry out more quickly and, during a wildfire, produce bigger flames.  Second, living foliage on brush and trees typically has very high fuel moisture and generally will be less flammable.  During a drought, the moisture of live foliage gets so low it burns like dead fuel, also causing bigger flames.Fire in Trees

Mr. Munns went on to explain that bigger flames lead to wicked and unpredictable fire behavior making fires difficult or impossible to control.  Bigger, hotter flames also spread into the tops of brush and trees, usually killing them and leaving little behind.  In other words, drought creates hotter, more severe fires that advance rapidly. Drier, hotter fires also increase the amount of embers that can start fires at a considerable distance from the main flame front.  During a drought, the fuels that embers land in are drier, and more likely to ignite.  This increases the risk of fires starting, particularly in and around structures. University of Nevada Cooperative Extension’s Living With Fire Program has a great publication to help you learn more about embers. Click here to download a copy of Be Ember Aware!

I imagine that the lack of snow and rain helps explain the recent fires outside of what we normally think of as “fire season”.  Some examples are the Caughlin Fire in November, 2011 in Reno, the Washoe Drive Fire in January 2012 near Carson City, and the Round Fire near Bridgeport, CA fire just this week.  Mr. Munns told me that damaging fires have burned every month of the year in the Great Basin, particularly during drought years.  Mr. Munns concluded by emphasizing that preparing homes for fire is always necessary, but it is even more important, year round during a drought.  Since it is an issue of great concern to the firefighting community, it should also be for my community.

Now I have a better understanding that drought causes hotter fires, allows the fire to spread rapidly and into the tops of brush and trees, and allows fires to burn every month of the year, even outside the ‘typical’ fire season.  Drought increases the likelihood of severe fires causing more damage to not only the environment, but also to the homes right here where I live, in the wildland-urban interface.

I can tell you that Mr. Munns got my attention and painted a pretty scary picture.  I read somewhere that to convince people of their vulnerability and stimulate action the threat of wildfire must be on the agenda; every agenda.  I can assure you that when the HOA board meets to talk about the drought in a few days, a new item dealing with the wildfire threat will also be on their agenda.