Late spring is a precarious time for weather in Nevada. Temperatures can drop and soar, the sun can be shining one moment and rain can be pounding the roof of a car the next. So I wasn’t surprised when this week’s weather forecast called for highs that meant shorts and sandals. With summer just around the corner, Nevadans are getting ready to enjoy trips to the lake, frozen treats, nighttime temperatures that are perfect for stargazing and red flag warnings.

I know, you’re thinking I must have lost a couple of marbles along the way, but red flag warnings are part of the package for living in Nevada. As a new homeowner living in the WUI, I want to know what a red flag warning means for my neighborhood and my home.

A YouTube search turned up a video by the National Weather Service, Reno office. This video discusses how forecasters decide if the weather conditions warrant a red flag warning. Local fire agencies determine when the vegetation is dry enough to carry fire. The fire agencies then notify the National Weather Service to begin issuing Red Flag Warnings when the critical fire weather conditions occur. Using weather, topography and fuels – all that great smelling brush around my yard that gives me allergies this time of year – the National Weather Service Team determines if the conditions are right for extreme fire behavior or numerous fire starts. These are the kinds of conditions in which a wildfire could explode out of control before first responders could arrive. The video also discusses what conditions are right for a red flag warning in two scenarios: the first would occur when relative humidity would be lower than 15% and wind gusts would be at least 30 miles per hour; the second would occur during a forecast of dry lightning and winds from thunderstorms. Watch it here and check out the National Weather Service’s fire weather map for the current conditions for your area.

Like your local National Weather Service office’s Facebook page and you’ll be in the know about red flag alerts. The National Weather Service, Reno office shows a graphic for Tuesday’s red flag warning, with a reminder of the kinds of things people need to avoid to be sure they don’t start a fire:

  • Don’t use fireworks or start a campfire.
  • Stow trailer chains properly.
  • Don’t drive over dry grass.
  • Postpone target shooting.
  • Avoid yard work or welding near dry vegetation.

Noted. I’ll avoid these activities and will be sure to encourage my neighbors and friends to do the same on red flag warning days. Looking at the sagebrush around my community, knowing that today’s conditions will continue to repeat throughout the year, I feel encouraged to evaluate my home as well. My yard is clear of weeds and debris but according to the Living With Fire website, I can do more. There are plenty of activities I can do around my home, so that it will have a better chance of surviving if a wildfire starts in the hills next to my house. I’ll add them to my list of summer projects for sure!

Stay safe and enjoy that late-spring weather,

Natalie Newcomer

As a member of a community located in the wildland-urban interface where a beautiful hike is moments from my door, there’s always wildlife to study, and the stars seem to burn a little brighter at night, I take pride in my community. I also take comfort in the multiple fire stations close by, for as beautiful and enjoyable as the hills around my house are, they could quite easily burn, and if the old charred sagebrush carcasses I’ve seen on my hikes are any indication, they have before.

I appreciate my community fire service men and women. I think they’re heroic and brave, and cannot begin to count the number of neighbor kids I used to babysit who wanted to be firefighters when they grew up. So with the faith society puts on our fire services, it’s absolutely reasonable for me to expect a fire engine in my driveway, protecting my house from a wildfire, right? Well, maybe not.

A recent internet search turned up a production by The Denver Post called “The Fire Line: Wildfire in Colorado.” The video features compelling stories of the people who lost their homes to Colorado wildfires and the firefighters who were tasked with defending them. The message is well delivered and simple: in a society where more and more homes are built in the wildland, it’s unfair to expect firefighters to put themselves in certain danger to defend them, when the homeowner has not taken any steps to reduce their fire threat. I highly recommend it. Watch it here, and keep a tissue handy!

It appears as though Nevada’s got a similar idea. The Living With Fire homepage features the poster for the Nevada Wildfire Awareness Month campaign. The message: Prepare Your Home For Wildfire. See the poster and a list of events people around the state are participating in, at http://www.livingwithfire.info/wildfire-awareness-month.

Living With Fire’s message behind the poster is also simple: “This year we hope to change the traditional reactionary thinking of protecting our homes from wildfire to a proactive approach – prepare your home for wildfire!”

I think I’ll take this call to action to task. By preparing my home for the wildfire I know is bound to strike the hills by my house again, then I’ll have done my community fire services a favor. It’ll be easier to defend a house that’s ready, or if the area’s not safe for them to be in, I’ll know my house still has a chance of surviving without a fire engine in my driveway. Now that’s something to take comfort in.

To learn how to make your home safer from a wildfire, and a place that fire services can better defend, visit livingwithfire.info.

Cheers!

Natalie Newcomer

 

 

One of my favorite things about living in the Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI) is that I can walk out my front door and start hiking within moments of leaving my house.

I love to study pinyon pine trees on my hikes. They have needles and drop pine cones like a pine tree should, but they make the most interesting shapes. Instead of the conical, straight-up-and-down shape you’d expect from an iconic pine tree, their branches twist and extend out wide at all angles, almost like an oak tree. They’re so much fun to look at because they’re all so individual!

Imagine my delight when I found a publication called “Pinyon Pine Management Guidelines For Common Pests” on the Living With Fire website. The booklet is short – an easy Sunday afternoon read – and tells all about how to manage pinyon pine on your property as well as their general forest management guidelines. When properly cared for, they can survive disease and resist beetle attack. Wait… what?

Beetle attack. The paper devotes a large section to common pests that would infect pinyon pine. At the top of the list is the Pinyon Ips beetle. These nasty little buggers, dark brown or black bugs that are approximately 1/4 inch long, attack the tree and leave it in terrible shape after they’re done. The process goes like this: a male bores into the bark of the tree and releases a pheromone to call other male and female beetles; they mate and the females engrave canals to lay eggs; the eggs hatch and little white larvae eat the inner bark; finally, once they all grow up, they fly on to other trees and the process starts over. Is your skin crawling yet? Mine is.

Pinyon Ips beetles target drought-stressed trees or trees that have fresh wounds for entry; because of this, the booklet suggests that pinyon pines should only be pruned during fall and winter months. Trees that have been attacked will have boring dust in the bark crevices and at the base of the tree, as well as gobs of pitch on the outer-bark. Between a fungus carried by the beetle and their meal-time habits, Ips beetles can be fatal to pinyon pine, and dead trees are like roman candles in the WUI. All it would take is one traveling ember from a wildfire and it will ignite, endangering everything around it.

The pinyon pine is Nevada’s state tree and is one of the many treasures of our landscape. For information on pinyon pine, read “Pinyon Pine Management Guidelines For Common Pests.” To learn how to make your home and community safer from the threat of wildfire, visit www.livingwithfire.info.

Hope to see you hiking among the pinyon pine!

Natalie Newcomer

 

It seems like “winter fire” is a current buzz word… well, buzz words. The news is full of stories of fires that have left destruction in their wake in California, and in other places as well. It seems strange that winter should be a time when such devastating fires would catch.

In all of my childhood memories, fires were typically a part of a Nevada summer. Smoke turning the sun into a burning red disc would coincide with hot sidewalks and dripping ice cream. It was only a couple of years ago that I had my first notable experience with wildfire in winter: when the Washoe Drive Fire tore through Washoe Valley in the middle of January.

It was before my husband and I had bought our house, so the event hadn’t really triggered any “what if” moments for us. We simply worried about the welfare of our friends who lived in communities threatened by the blaze and were relieved when the fire was out.

Last Friday I saw a series of PSAs from Washoe County and Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District on the history of the Washoe Drive Fire and the importance of using an ash can to properly dispose of woodstove and fireplace ashes.

According to the longer of the PSAs, ashes were improperly disposed of and four days later, high winds fanned the resulting blaze. The images from the video are sobering. Flames engulf homes as firefighters brave the fire and try to protect whatever they can. The statistics are staggering: one person died, 29 homes burned, over 10,000 people had to evacuate, and the fire left over four million dollars in damages.

Another video talks about how to properly dispose of fireplace ashes. It’s actually pretty simple: scoop ashes into the ash can, pour water over them, close the lid tightly, set away from combustible materials for at least four days, and once the ashes have cooled, dispose of them in the trash.

Being careful to properly dispose of fireplace and woodstove ashes seems a crucial piece in preventing the devastation of winter fires. To see the Public Service announcements, check out the Living With Fire website at www.livingwithfire.info.

Stay Warm and Safe,

Natalie Newcomer

 

The weekend after the Thanksgiving holiday has always marked a prized tradition in my parents’ house: Christmas tree hunting.

When I got married I would drag my husband down our local Forest Service Ranger Station to purchase a tree tag, and we’d go on the annual tree hunt whenever possible.

We always enjoyed ourselves. The fresh blanket of snow, clean mountain air, and sharp smell of tree sap on our fingers made up for our wet pants and frozen toes.

That was before the great shift happened. One particularly snowy Christmas tree hunt, I found the perfect tree, a white fir that stood around 7 feet tall and was coated in a fresh dusting of glittering snow. The branches were full and perfectly spaced and begged to be adorned with ornaments. My husband took a saw to its base and it happened. I felt guilty – stone-in-the-pit-of-my-stomach guilty. I was depriving a tree of its full, majestic life. Normally it would still be looking out over the forest long after I was gone, but I had killed it for my holiday celebration. We took it home, but the holiday just wasn’t the same, and every Thanksgiving since I’ve made sure my weekend held no room for the family tree hunt.

I’ve recently had a change of heart. While browsing the Living With Fire website (LivingWithFire.info), I came across a fact sheet that articulates the benefits of tree thinning. While one part of the paper addresses tree thinning around the home (good information for people with big trees on their properties), the other part addresses forest health. There were a lot of points to sell me on the idea of tree thinning, but there was one that stood out in particular: tree thinning is helpful for reducing wildfire threat. Thinner tree stands means less fuel so that a fire won’t burn so intensely. It also means that fire will stay closer to the ground so that the big, healthy trees won’t catch easily. Read the paper here.

Understanding how Christmas tree cutting allows predetermined areas to be thinned for the betterment of the forest has eased my guilty conscience greatly.

This year’s tree hunt was one of my favorites yet. My tree is stunning, and the forest we left behind will be healthier and will hopefully fare better in a wildfire, thanks to our family tradition.

Happy Holidays!

Natalie Newcomer

It seems like the holidays are a perfect reason to justify making sure the house and yard are in good shape. A recent conversation with my mother, in which she declared her intentions to come for dinner, visit with her grand dogs, and see my fall decorations, had me running for the garage and the rake.

Truth be told, my yard was a bit of a mess. I can always think of something better to do than to clean up the flower beds beneath my front window, pick the dried grasses out of my rock garden, and rake up the pine needles, pine cones, and cottonwood leaves in my back yard.

This may be a bit farfetched, but I’d like to suggest that wildfires and mothers have something in common: you really can’t predict when they’re going to turn up.

I’ve heard it said that an ember can travel a mile ahead of a wildfire. This would mean that even if a house is out of the way of a fire, a traveling ember can lodge itself in a dry place and ignite. The Living With Fire website features an interactive display that shows 20 places around a house that are vulnerable to embers; dead plant matter is a major contributor to the list of potential hazards. Check it out here to see where your house may be vulnerable.

My work was cut out for me. I checked my roof for rouge plant matter, cleaned leaves and pine needles out of the rain gutters, scavenged the debris out from underneath my deck (that was terrifying), cleared away all dead grasses and leaves out from my flowerbed and from under bushes, and raked up the debris and leaves that had collected by my fence.

After an afternoon of muddy boots, endless trash bags, and blue fingers – honestly, Natalie, way to wait until it’s 40 degrees outside to do yard work – my house is a little more ready to survive a wildfire, a wind-blown ember, and a visit from my mother.

Happy raking!

Natalie Newcomer

Join us as we follow Natalie Newcomer’s journey through the perils and joys of living in the wildland-urban interface.

Autumn at the new house has been unbelievable. The cottonwoods around the nearby stream have dropped their bright gold leaves and the sagebrush behind the house has taken on a whole new smell: it’s crisper, cleaner, and headier.

When buying my house I thought only about the price, the beauty of the surrounding neighborhood and land, and the great schools my kids would be zoned for. It wasn’t until I spoke with a neighbor that the dots began to connect: my little community was smack dab in the middle of fire country. It turns out there’s a technical term for it: the wildland-urban interface. I chose a house on the edge of the wildland, and now a fire could run right up to my doorstep. So much for tarantulas and scorpions being the worst of my problems!

What is a homeowner to do? This is what insurance is for, right? Isn’t the best I can hope for is enough notice to evacuate my animals and prized possessions before we’re toast? Apparently not.

The Reno Gazette Journal published a piece on Saturday about the two year anniversary of the Caughlin Fire. It talked about the chaos residents experienced during their middle of the night evacuations and the key issues that caused homes to burn. The author stakes the claim that these things could have been averted. People can have materials ready for evacuation, and practices around the home can give a structure a chance to survive against a storm of embers.

Exploring the Living With Fire website, referenced at the end of the article, I found a wealth of information on how to give my house a chance in a fire, and the firefighters a better opportunity to save it. Nevadans are industrious and ever expanding. We live in areas, even in the midst of cities and towns, that are wildfire prone. The costs can be high, but the rewards are endless with gorgeous skies, abundant wildlife, and rugged and beautiful Great Basin vegetation.

Join me as I learn about how to adapt to be part of a thriving and wildfire-safe community in a state where fire is part of the natural lifecycle!

More to come soon!

Natalie Newcomer

 

On June 2, the following events will be held in Incline Village as part of Lake Tahoe Wildfire Awareness Week.

1. Five Years After the Angora Fire – Lessons for Incline Village and Crystal Bay

What: The North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District invites you to a presentation and community forum followed by a fire demonstration and a BBQ lunch.

When: The presentation and fire demonstration run from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. The BBQ starts immediately after and ends at 12:30 p.m.

Where: Incline Village Fire Station

863 Tanager Street

Incline Village, NV

Click here for more information

 

2. Fire and Fuels Walking Tour of Wood Creek

What: The North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District invites you to take a walking tour of prescribed fire and fuels reduction work completed in Wood Creek.

When: 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Where: Meet at the intersection of Barbara Street and Jennifer Street

Incline Village, NV

Special Considerations: This is a 1.4 mile, round-trip hiking tour along a gentle grade. Please bring sturdy shoes. Transportation from the Incline Fire Station at 863 Tanager Street to the rendezvous point is available.

Click here for more information

 

3. Landscaping for Fire Safety and Wildlife

What: The Nevada Tahoe Conservation District and the North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District invite you to a class about reducing potential fire hazards in your yard while maintaining wildlife habitat, how to identify and prune high fire-risk shrubs, and good plant choices for the Lake Tahoe Basin. There will also be a pruning demonstration for those do-it-yourselfers eager to learn. Free wildflower seeds will also be available!

When: 4 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Where: North Lake Tahoe Demonstration Garden

Corner of Tahoe Blvd and Country Club Drive

Incline Village, NV

Click here for more information and a map

 

The days, weeks, and months following a wildfire may be very difficult, depending upon your loss.  For some, it may be cleaning-up ash and removing “smoke-smell.” Others less fortunate may need to replace all their possessions and possibly contend with the loss of a loved one.

A Topaz Ranch Estates home destroyed by wildfire. Photo Courtesy of the Reno Gazette-Journal

The emotional trauma of a wildfire may be something you never forget. It can be especially challenging for children. Children often perceive things as worse than they really are. Be sure to talk to your kids about the fire and its effects. Also, don’t hesitate to ask for counseling assistance from the Red Cross or other disaster relief organization.

These “After the Fire” recommendations are presented in three categories: Before You Enter the Home, Inside the House and Landscape Care.

Before You Enter the Home

  • If you were evacuated, contact your insurance agent or company to let them know how you can be reached. Keep receipts for temporary living expenses, like motel room and meals.
  • Do not return to your home until re-entry is permitted by law enforcement officials. Do not cross a barricade or hazard tape without permission.
  • Be careful when going back into your neighborhood.
    • Charred trees and power poles may be unstable.
    • Fires may flare up without warning.
    • Live power lines may be on the ground.
    • Watch out for ash pits — holes created by burned trees filled with hot ash. You or your pets can be seriously burned if you fall into an ash pit.
  • Check to see if your gas and electric utilities are working properly. If you smell gas, shut off the gas supply at the main valve, leave immediately, and call the gas company. If the electricity is not working, check to see if the main breaker is “on.” If it is and there is no power, call your power company.
  • Your house and yard may be covered in ash and may still have live embers present. Wear only cotton, wool, or leather clothing. Wear long pants, a long sleeved shirt or a jacket, and boots. Wearing a dust mask will be especially important.
  • Check for and extinguish any burning embers on the roof, in rain gutters, on the porch, or elsewhere on your property.

Inside the House

  • Check for embers and smoke in the attic and in the crawl space. Check every day for several days.
  • Start a list of things that have been damaged. Damage can occur from fire, smoke, water, and chemicals. Take photographs. Don’t throw away damaged belongings or make repairs until you’ve talked to your insurance company.
  • Do not eat food, drink beverages, or take medicine exposed to heat, smoke, or soot.
  • Smoke can infiltrate cloth and other materials. Using one to two cups of white vinegar with each load of wash can help rid clothing of the “smoke smell.” Commercial cleaning may be necessary for your drapes, upholstery, and carpet.

Landscape Care

  • Whether fire damaged trees will survive depends on several factors, including their species, their condition before the fire, and how badly they were scorched. A green or white, moist cambium layer beneath the bark is a good indicator that the tree will survive. Also, if most of the buds are still green, moist, and flexible, the tree has a good chance of survival. Sometimes it is hard to tell if a tree will survive. In those cases, it may be worthwhile to wait until next spring.
  • Sometimes after a wildfire, the soil itself can begin to repel water — to become “hydrophobic.” If water won’t soak into the ground, try loosening the soil with a rake. A thin layer of straw on top of the soil can help it absorb moisture.
  • Irrigate stressed plants as soon as you can after the fire. Water the ground under trees for the full width of their drip line — the circumference of their canopy of branches — and a few feet farther. Keep watering until the soil is moist to a depth off 12-15 inches.
  • Fire stressed trees are vulnerable to beetle attack. Look for pink-to-red colored pitch on the branches. Beetle infested trees should be cut-down and removed.
  • Soil erosion becomes a major concern after wildfire. Before the fire, fallen leaves and branches and plants with shallow roots helped control erosion. But that was all consumed by the fire. If the soil won’t absorb water, it will become even more vulnerable. Several techniques are available for controlling erosion, including reseeding, the use of straw mulch, and felling damaged trees across a slope. Planting of conservation grasses like crested wheatgrass can reduce the fire threat and help control erosion.
  • After the fire, be on the look out for unfamiliar plants. They could be invasive weeds like Russian knapweed, yellow star thistle, and medusa head.

For more information about what to do after the fire, contact your local Cooperative Extension or Nevada Division of Forestry office or visit LivingWithFire.info.

By:

Ed Smith, Natural Resource Specialist

Sonya Sistare, Living With Fire Project Coordinator

 

http://www.livingwithfire.info/

 

What are Fire Adapted Communities?

Fire Adapted Communities are neighborhoods located in a fire-prone area that require little assistance from firefighters during a wildfire. Residents of Fire Adapted Communities accept responsibility for living in a high fire-hazard area. They also possess the knowledge and skills to prepare their homes and property to survive wildfire and they know how to evacuate early, safely and effectively.

Focus of the Webinar Series

University of California Cooperative Extension and University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, in collaboration with Lake Tahoe Basin fire agencies, will conduct a series of webinars on topics that will provide residents the knowledge and skills to create Fire Adapted Communities in the Lake Tahoe Basin. This webinar series will be held in conjunction with Lake Tahoe Basin Wildfire Awareness Week, which runs May 26 to June 3.

The goal of the webinar series is to empower residents to take responsibility for reducing the wildfire risk to their own homes, families and communities. The experts presenting in this webinar series will:

  • Provide a broad overview of the wildfire risk-reduction strategies used in the Lake Tahoe Basin
  • Explain the principles of effective defensible space and conservation landscaping in the Lake Tahoe Basin
  • Describe methods that can be used to reduce the ignitability of homes in fire-hazard areas, specifically in the Lake Tahoe Basin
  • Discuss how Lake Tahoe Basin residents can work with their fire departments, neighborhoods and communities to reduce the wildfire threat
  • Educate on how to prepare for emergencies and how to evacuate when a wildfire threatens
  • Outline the fire risk reduction activities being conducted in wildlands by the US Forest Service

Who Should Attend?

This webinar series offers an education on a variety of important topics for homeowners and residents of the Lake Tahoe Basin, visitors, land managers, local decision makers and planners, regulators, and members of the firefighting community. 

Webinar Schedule

The following six webinars will be offered during Lake Tahoe Basin Wildfire Awareness Week. All sessions will be held from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. and will be recorded and archived for later viewing.

Session One: Defensible space in the Lake Tahoe Basin – Friday, May 25

  • How to create defensible space and why it’s important – Ed Smith, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension
  • How to integrate defensible space with Best Management Practices – Mike Vollmer, Tahoe Regional Planning Agency
  • How to receive a free consultation on installing Best Management Practices on your property – Courtney Walker, Tahoe Resource Conservation District

Session Two: Preparing for emergencies and evacuating during a wildfire – Tuesday, May 29

  • Following the Preparing Residents in Disaster Evacuations (PRIDE) program recommendations to prepare for emergencies and safely and effectively evacuating during a wildfire – Mark Regan, North Lake Tahoe FPD
  • Information needs and emergency notification methods – Dave Zaski, North Tahoe FPD

Session Three: Conservation landscaping in the Lake Tahoe Basin – Wednesday, May 30

  • Defensible space landscaping – Susie Kocher, University of California Cooperative Extension
  • Backyard native plants – Lesley Higgins, Nevada Tahoe Conservation District
  • How to garden in the Lake Tahoe Basin – Wendy West, Tahoe Basin Master Gardener program

Session Four: Improving home survivability during wildfire – Thursday, May 31

  • How homes are vulnerable to wildfire – Steve Quarles, Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety
  • Implementing Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI) building codes in the Lake Tahoe Basin – Gareth Harris, Lake Valley FPD

Session Five: US Forest Service’s role in wildfire risk reduction – Friday, June 1

  • Fire prevention in the Lake Tahoe Basin – Beth Brady, US Forest Service
  • South Shore fuels treatment projects and the stewardship permit system – Kyle Jacobsen, US Forest Service

Session Six: Working with your fire department and community – Tuesday, June 5

  • Fire department services, permits, calls from insurance companies and more – Eric Guevin, Tahoe Douglas FPD and Martin Goldberg, Lake Valley FPD
  • Motivating neighbors to create defensible space – Ann Grant, Nevada Fire Safe Council

Webinar Logistics

University of California Cooperative Extension will host the webinars. The webinars are free to attend, but participants are required to register. Click here to register. Participants will be provided a URL to access the presentations and will be able to engage presenters and other attendees by asking questions and commenting on the materials.

For more information contact Susie Kocher, University of California Cooperative Extension, at sdkocher@ucdavis.edu or (530) 542-2571 or check the webinar homepage.

For a full list of Lake Tahoe Wildfire Awareness Week activities click here.