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.

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 roicej@unce.unr.edu.

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.

DS Inspection Pic.smTalking with my friend and neighbor over coffee this morning, the subject came up that in spite of high winds and drought this past summer, we escaped with no real occurrence of wildfire to threaten our homes.  Oh sure, there was smoke in the air and daily reports, not to mention pictures,  of the extreme flames and wicked burning of the King Fire in California but no real danger close to home this year.  “Just a run of good luck” my neighbor said shaking her head.  “I know” I responded, “but one of these days our luck is going to run out and that smoke and those flames are going to be knocking on our doors.”   Unfortunately, my friend has the same feeling as many others in the neighborhood: there is nothing we can do about wildfire. If it is going to burn, we will just deal with it when it happens.  I quickly set her straight, telling her there is a lot we can do before we smell smoke and the embers start flying. But it’s going to take the whole neighborhood, everyone in the community to get in gear.  “That will take some real effort,” she said as she headed for the door, “If you see a way I can help let me know.”

I thought about what she said and she was right of course, it will take some effort.  But nothing worth doing is free from effort and right now, as winter approaches, is the perfect time to get this started.  I know that as a community we are vulnerable to the devastation that accompanies wildfire.  I don’t want anybody’s home to burn down, especially mine, and I don’t want to see anyone get hurt.   I also know we are going to need help.  I am no expert when it comes to fire and firefighting and I don’t know anyone who is.  But, I bet right now, with the fire danger down, is a good time, maybe the best time, to call on my local fire department to give us a hand.  I am certain they will have professionals that can give us advice on just how vulnerable we are and what we need to do to reduce the risk we face.  And, there are no doubt experts from the Federal agencies that oversee the land around us that would also be willing to help out.  But for that to happen, I know we must show that as a community of people we are ready to do our part.  Wildfire is not like earthquakes and tornadoes. Unlike those disasters, there is a great deal we can do prior to the fire starting to affect the way the fire burns and increase our chance of survival.  So, first I need to get a planning group of interested neighbors together and outline the steps we need to take to get this community energized and organized, perhaps joining the new Nevada Network of Fire Adapted Communities. I just learned about that at a conference held in October, and you can learn more here.

I’ll bet an invitation for dessert and coffee would bring some neighbors together and get us started.  And, I am sure the folks at Cooperative Extension’s Living With Fire Program would give us a hand.  I need just a little more coffee and then… to the phone.

Cheers!

Natalie

Just when I thought I had figured out fire season in Nevada, I got brought back to reality. One of my neighbors works for the local fire protection district. I commented to him that with Thanksgiving approaching we can relax because fire season is over for the year. He politely corrected me. “Natalie” he said “You weren’t here in November of 2011 for the Caughlin Fire were you?” We hadn’t moved here yet. He went on to explain that we were coming up on the three-year anniversary of the Caughlin Fire. That fire burned 1,935 acres, destroyed 28 homes, and damaged an additional 15 homes. An estimated 4,500 homes were threatened. Property loss as a result of the fire was over $10,000,000. He also described other recent winter fires: Carson City’s Laurel Fire, which forced the evacuation of hundreds of people occurred December of that same year and the Washoe Drive Fire which destroyed 29 homes, happened the following January.

I learned that Nevada’s winter wildfires pose some different challenges from the “traditional” summer fires. During the winter, the leaves of deciduous trees and shrubs are dead and lying on the ground, while during the summer months they are attached to branches, green and full of moisture. During the winter these leaves and needles can accumulate next to house, on the roof and in rain gutters. Burning embers produced by the wildfire can easily ignite them and in turn, threaten the house. The Living With Fire Program has terrific information about other ways embers can threaten your home or property.  Download their publication here. Lawns and pastures can also pose a problem. During the summer, they can be effective fuelbreaks when green and irrigated. However, when dormant during the winter, they are dry and can carry fire across the landscape.

It sounds like wildfire preparedness is a year-round thing here in Nevada. So get out your rake and lawnmower, remove those leaves and mow that dry grass.

Cheers!

Natalie Newcomer

Courtesy of East Fork Fire Protection District

             Courtesy of East Fork Fire Protection District

A fun part of living in the wildland-urban interface is the range of pastimes that an outdoor enthusiast can find to occupy his or her free time. I love running my dogs in the hills and hiking with friends by the stream near my community. My dad, who is a target shooting enthusiast, suggested hiking out a ways and target shooting sometime soon. His only caution was that we’d need to be sure that fire weather watch or red flag warning conditions weren’t in effect for the day. We’d never want to cause a wildfire.

I was stunned. Target shooting? Cause a wildfire? He had to be kidding, right? Of course I nodded and agreed to save my reputation as a know-it-all with Dad, but after our discussion, I searched the internet for evidence. To say I found a lot on the subject is an understatement. I found a study the Forest Service published last year that spelled out some nerve-wracking details. The agency performed experiments to determine whether or not rifle bullets would ignite organic matter in the right circumstances and were met with a clear answer: yes. Here are some key points from what they found:

  • “Rifle bullets striking hard surfaces can lead to ignition of organic material.”
  • “Ignitions were regularly observed for bullets with steel components and solid copper components.”
  • “Bullet fragments achieved temperatures of 1,200-1,400 °F.”

Read the study here.   

Okay, hot bullet fragments can start wildfires. What do I do if I hear target shooting in the hills behind my house on a day when the conditions are just right for wildfire? I called Terry Taylor, fire captain and investigator with East Fork Fire Protection District for some answers.

Captain Taylor, who’s passionate about keeping the public informed about the risks of target shooting concerning wildfire, was happy to discuss the subject. Between 2012 and 2013, he surveyed a portion of western Nevada and found that target shooting caused 37 wildfires. The majority of these fires occurred on unoccupied private or public lands that were within a few miles of residential areas.

Is target shooting bound to start a wildfire? Not necessarily. Captain Taylor said that the conditions need to be right. Target shooting can cause wildfires in critical fire weather or red flag warning conditions especially when practiced near easily ignitable vegetation like dry cheatgrass. Also, all bullets are not made equal when it comes to target shooting and avoiding wildfire. Steel ammunition is the worst culprit, and many people who shoot with it don’t realize what it’s made out of because it’s covered with copper coating.

Captain Taylor suggests that homeowners call local law enforcement and explain their concerns if they hear target shooting during critical fire weather watch or red flag warning conditions. Law enforcement can make sure that the target shooters aren’t shooting unsafely and will also ensure that they’re following city and county ordinances.

Well this know-it-all learned something new! It’s good to know I can call local law enforcement if I’m concerned that a nearby target shooter might cause a wildfire. I’m also glad to have more information to help keep my community safe from the threat of wildfire.

Courtesy of the Nevada Division of Forestry

        Courtesy of the Nevada Division of Forestry

 Natalie Newcomer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last week a brush fire burned near one of my favorite campgrounds. Fire crews were able to quickly contain the blaze and campers were only evacuated for a short time. I thought getting rained out of my July camping trip was a bummer… yikes! What stuck with me was how close another wildfire had been to my home. After all, the reason why those particular campgrounds are some of my favorites is because they’re just a quick trip from my driveway.

When I shared my concerns with my neighbor, she told me how reassured she was that she’d signed up for our county’s emergency notification system. In the event of an emergency in our area, she’ll receive a message that will let her know what’s going on.

I have to admit, I assumed I would be notified automatically.  Now I know that this is not the case, especially since I don’t have a land line.  Thanks to my recent discussion with an emergency services dispatcher, I know what goes on behind the scenes when someone calls 911 to report a fire. (Read that blog article here.)  It makes sense that emergency services would need to know how to get ahold of me to tell me if a fire or other type of emergency threatened my home and family.

A quick google search brought up Washoe County’s emergency management homepage and directed me to sign up for the Code Red system. It was very simple for me to enter my address, cell phone number and email address for emergency notification purposes. I can receive the messages via call and text, and was able to set up a password for my account to adjust my information if it changes in the future.

In their publication, Fire Adapted Communities: The Next Step in Wildfire Preparedness, Living With Fire addresses emergency notification systems. Apparently several Nevada counties use different emergency notification systems that can contact community members similarly to how the Code Red system will contact me. The publication encourages homeowners to enter multiple forms of contact information if the database will allow. If a landline is the only number the database will call, a homeowner may not receive the notification if the power is down or if they’re not home. Check with your county’s emergency management department, local fire department or sheriff’s office to see if there is an emergency notification system being used in your county, and to find out how you can sign up.

I feel so relieved after signing up. I understand that no system is perfect, but I’m glad I have another way to keep apprised of emergencies in my area.

Natalie Newcomer

With fire season in full swing and more acres of Nevada vegetation burning by the day, I recently began to wonder what happens when a 911 call is placed to report smoke or flames. If Hollywood gives any indication, the call is placed and a fire engine lights up immediately, with firefighters rushing into it to go fight the blaze. Well, Hollywood exaggerates on most everything else, so my curiosity, as usual, won out. I spoke with an on-duty supervisor at my local dispatch agency to understand what goes on when someone calls 911 for smoke or flames.

Erin has worked at my local dispatch agency for a while, and in the short time I spoke with her, I could tell she was a woman who was adept at gathering details quickly and who didn’t miss a beat.

She explained that there are three general steps to her side of the call:

  1. The first thing she’ll ask for is an address. If the caller is calling from a land line, then her technology will gather that information automatically, but most people are calling from cell phones these days. If the caller is calling from a cell phone, they’ll need to give her an address or the nearest cross streets.
  2. She’ll then find out what help is needed. If the emergency is a fire, she’ll ask which type. This part is crucial as the answer will determine what kind of help Erin will order. If it’s a wildland fire, she’ll ask for brush trucks; if it’s a house or building fire she’ll request structure vehicles. The right type of help needs to be ordered right off the bat, as having the wrong type of help arrive to the emergency would waste precious time and could be ineffective to fight the blaze.
  3. After she has this information, she’ll set to work entering it into her computer. The National Fire Protection Association says that a dispatcher has to enter the information in the computer within 30 seconds of the call being placed. The fire dispatcher on duty has another 30 seconds to take that information and send it to the fire department.

Erin assured me that dispatchers can usually make this time frame; occasionally a nervous caller who doesn’t have the information ready will cause that time to increase. Dispatchers understand that callers can feel nervous or anxious but their cooperation is paramount. As such, dispatchers are trained to help a caller by asking their questions quickly and directly.

Aside from having their location or the location of where they see smoke coming from ready when they call, callers should let their dispatcher know if there are any potentially hazardous materials inside a structure that’s near or is on fire. They should also be prepared to describe the size of the fire, and if it’s a wildfire, tell how far it is from neighboring structures. Dispatchers will also take down the description of an arsonist right away and a caller should be prepared to give that information.  

After my conversation with Erin, I feel like I know what goes on behind the scenes when someone reports a fire. My biggest takeaway? Location. I’ll make sure to have an address ready if I ever need to report a fire. The Living With Fire Program actually talks about the importance of having your address visible for help when it arrives, and recommends that lettering be four inches high. Read about it in their Fire Adapted Communities publication.

 

Until next time, 

Natalie Newcomer