A burn scar from the Caughlin Fire is shown between groups of homes.

After the Caughlin Fire. Photograph Courtesy of University of Nevada Cooperative Extension

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 street. 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 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. This Saturday marks the six-year anniversary of this fire. A total of 1900 acres and 43 structures were destroyed or damaged and 8,000 people were evacuated. Continue reading and consider these lessons learned from the Caughlin Fire.

Be aware that wildfires can occur in the autumn and winter:

The Caughlin Fire occurred during the middle of November. The winds, coupled with dry vegetation and windblown tree branches that struck a powerline were the culprits for this wildfire. Winds blew at 20-30 mph gusting to 60 mph and the area had experienced an “abnormal dryness pattern”. The fire started when windblown tree branches struck a powerline, generated sparks and ignited the dry vegetation above the Caughlin Ranch area. The winds then carried the fire and embers to burn a total of 1900 acres. This situation shows that wildfires can start and spread year round.

 Prepare for evacuation:

This fire occurred during the middle of the night and 8,000 residents were evacuated at a moment’s notice. Emergency responders knocked on doors in attempts to evacuate residents in the dark while the electricity was out. This caught most residents off guard. Imagine trying to evacuate in the middle of the night with no electricity. Panic can cloud anyone’s judgement during a situation like this one. This is why it’s important to prepare for evacuation before a wildfire occurs. Learn how to prepare for evacuation

Sign up with your local emergency notification system:

Many residents opt out of having a landline in lieu of a mobile device. However, this makes it difficult to notify residents when there is an emergency. To ensure that residents are notified of an emergency, they can sign up for an alert system. The following links are cities and counties that offer a reverse 911-type emergency notification system in Nevada:

 Be ember aware:

Wind-blown embers can travel up to a mile ahead of a wildfire. It’s estimated that 90% of the homes destroyed during are due to wind-blown embers. The Caughlin Fire was no exception as embers traveled ahead of the fire causing spot fires. Embers hop-scotched past some homes and destroyed others. During the chaos of evacuation and without power, some homeowners were forced to open their garage manually, and they forgot to close their garage doors when they left. This allowed embers to enter and ignite combustibles in the garage. Taking the proper precautions to ensure that a home is ember prepared can reduce the threat of wildfire ignition to a home.

See where homes can be vulnerable to an ember attack.

Maintain your defensible space:

Providing the proper vegetation management around one’s home reduces the threat of wildfire ignition. During the 60’s and 70’s, it was popular for residential landscapes to utilize ornamental juniper. An ornamental juniper doesn’t require much water or maintenance, however, it is very flammable as it may contain a large amount of dead plant material. Many of the homes around the Caughlin Ranch area were built during that era and utilized this flammable shrub their landscapes. Another concern is the fallen, dried tree leaves and pine needles that occur in the autumn. This dead vegetation is easliy ignited by embers. However, cleaning up this plant material can help reduce the risk of wildfire ignition to a home.

**note, the first paragraph was re-used from the February 2017 blog**

Headshot of Jamie

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 roicej@unce.unr.edu

Picture of germinated cheatgrass in the fallA concerned resident contacted me regarding cheatgrass control because of its high-fire hazard potential. He noticed that his cheatgrass had started to germinate, but wanted to use preemergence herbicides to fight the weed. Considering that Fall is the best time to apply preemergence herbicides to control cheatgrass, I do know that it should be done before it appears. To help me better answer herbicide questions, I turned to University of Nevada Cooperative Extension’s Wendy Hanson Mazet, master gardener coordinator. I also asked Ed Smith, natural resource specialist, about cheatgrass to help answer this question.

To understand how to combat cheatgrass it’s important to understand the life cycle of this weed. Cheatgrass is a “winter annual”. That means it germinates during the fall and early winter, survives the winter, grows in the spring and dies in the summer. The seeds from the dead plant can remain in the soil up to five to seven years and the seeds will germinate under the right conditions. As Ed Smith says, “Cheatgrass goes through a green phase, a red/brown phase and finally a yellow phase. Our management goal is to prevent cheatgrass from setting seeds.” He stressed that over time, our goal is to decrease the amount of seeds present in the soil. Currently, there are some areas in Nevada that has cheatgrass already growing and other areas that haven’t seen any germination yet. The growth stage your cheatgrass is at, influences which control method is best. Here are some of the control methods for cheatgrass at different growth stages during the fall:

If cheatgrass hasn’t germinated, preemergence herbicides might be an option:

  • Herbicides are chemicals that kill plants. Preemergence herbicides are chemicals that are applied before the weed appears. Some folks prefer this method because chemical application can be easier to control cheatgrass. However, there are lots of factors to consider when dealing with preemergence herbicides. According to Wendy, preemergence should be applied to bare soil and it should remain within the first one to two inches of the soil surface. If the herbicide is not within that region, it won’t work. Other factors to consider are soil type (sandy soils will have troubles retaining preemergence), slope (potential for the herbicide to migrate downhill), preemergence application (some must be watered into the soil), and where to apply herbicide (it can affect your grass and flowers or prevent your planted seeds from growing).

If cheatgrass has already sprouted, consider these options:

  • Grazing Animals: If cheatgrass has already sprouted, grazing animals such as goats, sheep, cattle or even chickens can be used. Wendy cautions that grazing animals must be contained to eat the weed or they might consume other plants.
  • Mechanical Methods: People can physically remove these weeds by hand pulling, hoeing, weedeating, disking or tilling, but if the soil is disturbed there is a chance for further cheatgrass or other weed growth.
  • Post-emergent herbicides: Chemicals that are applied after a plant has started growing are referred to as post-emergents. Wendy warns that organic, post-emergent herbicides work best to kill broadleaf plants and not grass – so, they wouldn’t work well on cheatgrass. She recommended using either a chemical designed for both broadleaf plants and grasses, or one that only controls grasses. She added that it is important that you add a spray aid, or an adjuvant, which is a “sticker” to help the chemical adhere to the plant and to apply it before the plant sets its seed.

Herbicide application is obviously more complex than I previously thought. Every property or situation is unique with different circumstances to consider. For questions, contact Wendy Hanson Mazet at 775-784-4848 or look at these publications “Using Preemergence Herbicides for Weed Control in the Home Landscape”   or “A Homeowner’s Guide to Cheatgrass”

Headshot of Jamie

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 roicej@unce.unr.edu.

Elements of a Fire Adapted CommunityHaving spent the majority of my life in Nevada, I’ve seen my share of wildfires. Growing up, I remember helping my father pick the weeds from the common area behind our house to improve our defensible space and even preparing items at home for an evacuation. Before starting with the Living With Fire Program, this is what I thought wildfire preparedness entailed. Since then, I’ve learned that there are five categories of actions to help residents prepare for wildfire. Those categories include: Access, Built Environment, Community Protection, Defensible Space and Evacuation. One easy way to remember these elements is to just remember your “ABCs and Ds and Es!”

Access: This is how you and emergency services get in and out of your community.  Some examples of proper access in your community include:  local fire services have key access to your gated driveways, long driveways or dead-end roads have enough room for emergency vehicles to turn around, your home’s address is readily visible from the street, there is at least a 13 ½-foot vertical clearance for your driveway, and that there are at least two ways out of the community.

Built Environment: The maintenance of a home and the manner in which it is built can improve the odds of a home surviving a wildfire. Maintaining a deck and how a deck is built is one example of the built environment. For example, it’s recommended to keep all deck materials in good condition and to consider using fire-resistant-rated materials. Residents should habitually check the deck for combustible debris (pine needles, leaves, twigs and weeds) under the deck and between deck boards. They should also consider enclosing the sides of the deck and to not store combustible materials under it.

Community Protection: Two ways to improve your community’s protection is via fuel breaks and community safe areas. A fuel break is a strip of land that has had highly flammable vegetation removed to reduce the wildfire threat. A safe area is a designated spot within a community where residents can stay to wait out the wildfire. Examples of safe areas include: ball fields, irrigated pastures, parks and parking lots.

Defensible Space: This is the area between a home and an oncoming wildfire where the vegetation was managed to reduce the wildfire threat and allow firefighters to safely defend the home. An effective defensible space includes knowing the proper distance for vegetation management, removing dead vegetation, thinning dense trees and shrubs, removing ladder fuels, and creating a “Lean, Clean, and Green” area around the house.

Evacuation: Residents should prepare for evacuation long before a wildfire occurs. This includes developing a family evacuation plan, assembling a To-Go bag, and knowing what to wear and take when evacuating.

I only reviewed a small portion of this information. For more in-depth information regarding these five categories, please view “Fire Adapted Communities: The Next Step in Wildfire Preparedness” here.  I urge all residents to check out this great publication and to prepare for wildfire.

Headshot of JamieJamie 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 roicej@unce.unr.edu.

Twenty locations of vulnerable areas on, near or around a home that is easily ignitable

Working at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension’s Living With Fire Program has altered my perception of the ember threat and proper defensible space. Just the other day, I approached my sister’s house and caught myself secretly congratulating her on her home’s defensible space.

One publication that is partly responsible for my increased awareness is “Be Ember Aware!”. It lists twenty locations around the home that are vulnerable to ignition from embers during wildfire and gives suggestions on how to reduce the threat.

Contrary to the popular belief that homes ignite due to a large wall of flames, experts estimate that 90% of homes ignited during a wildfire are because of embers. Embers are pieces of burning material that can be carried by the wind more than a mile ahead of a fire.  When they land something easily ignitable on or near the house, the home is at risk of burning.

I’ve spoken with a few folks who were surprised to hear about the recommendation to keep woodpiles at least 30 feet from the house or other buildings, or changing out their attic or foundation vents to 1/8-inch wire mesh. To learn more about the ember threat view the publication, “Be Ember Aware!”.

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 roicej@unce.unr.edu.

Landscape in front of a Northern Nevada Home.

Landscape in front of a Northern Nevada Home. 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 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 roicej@unce.unr.edu.

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 it 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 years’ Nevada Wildfire Awareness Month theme can help. It is: Wildfire! Prepare. Anticipate. Evacuate. I’ve prepared myself in some areas and need 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 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 roicej@unce.unr.edu.

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 roicej@unce.unr.edu.

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 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 roicej@unce.unr.edu.

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 roicej@unce.unr.edu.