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.

Most homes are destroyed during wildfire by burning embers landing on, in or near the house on something easy to ignite. In this photograph, embers have ignited the house and started several spot fires in the pine needle litter. Photograph courtesy of North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District.

Have you scrutinized your homeowner’s insurance policy to confirm that you are not underinsured if a wildfire destroys your home? OR did you know that a majority of homes destroyed during wildfire are from embers that can travel up to a mile away from a fire? As a relatively new employee with the Living With Fire Program, I am still learning new things! Some misconceptions continue to surprise me. The following is a list of four common misconceptions I hear regarding wildfire. Read on and be prepared to be debunked!

– Myth 1: If a wildfire destroys my home, my insurance will build me a new home.
Let’s say an individual’s home is destroyed by wildfire. Most homeowners expect their insurance will help them recover from the fire by providing enough money to replace anything damaged or destroyed. According to an expert I spoke with at the Nevada Division of Insurance, a majority of homeowners are under insured or don’t fully understand their insurance coverage. Of the many possible examples, let’s use the car as an example. Say a homeowner is evacuated due to a wildfire, but must leave one car behind parked in the garage and both the car and house are destroyed. The car is not covered by homeowners insurance, and is only covered if the owner has comprehensive auto insurance. This is but one of the many situations to review under your homeowner’s insurance policy. Remember, different insurance companies offer different policies. Due to this wide variation, homeowners should review policy details with their agent or at the very least, thoroughly read their annual policy. For an overview of homeowner’s insurance, please review the Nevada Consumer’s Guide for Home Insurance published by the State of Nevada Department of Business and Industry Division of Insurance, http://doi.nv.gov/uploadedFiles/doinvgov/_public-documents/News-Notes/HomeInsuranceGuide2011B.pdf .

– Myth 2: Firefighters will save my home during a wildfire.
The unfortunate reality of wildfire is there’s no guarantee that firefighters will be able to save your home. It’s projected that the wildfire threat in the Western United States will continue to increase. Since 1991, more than half of the new homes built were in wildland areas and are easily-ignitable, according to the research firm Headwaters Economics in Montana. The US Forest Service estimates that 15 million homes in the U.S. are at risk of being destroyed by wildfire. Unfortunately there will never be enough resources to protect every single home during a large wildfire incident. However, a home with defensible space, appropriate home construction and routine maintenance can increase a home’s survivability. An even greater impact is a “Fire Adapted Community,” or a community of people who work together to reduce the wildfire threat and prepare in advance to survive wildfire. This is a community that is adapted to survive wildfire with little or no assistance from firefighters. View the Fire Adapted Communities publication to help reduce the wildfire threat. http://www.unce.unr.edu/publications/files/nr/2011/sp1101.pdf#search=”fire adapted communities”

-Myth 3: During a wildfire, I’ll defend my home using my lawn sprinklers and a garden hose.
I’ve actually heard a neighbor say this one to me. During a wildfire, running yard sprinklers or water from your hose bib outdoors can affect crucial water pressure that’s necessary for firefighters to combat the fire. Conversely, because the firefighters are using the water supply, there might not be enough pressure to even power sprinklers or a hose. Another reason why one shouldn’t rely on their yard’s watering equipment to fight a wildfire is the possibility of no water at all. If the electricity is out, a home’s water source might not work due to electrical pump failure. When evacuating a home during a wildfire, it is recommended that homeowners connect garden hoses to outdoor faucets so firefighters can have access to them if necessary, but don’t leave the water running. For more tips on safe evacuation during a wildfire, see the evacuation information at http://www.livingwithfire.info/during-the-fire

– Myth 4: Direct contact with the wildfire flame front is why most homes are destroyed.
We’ve all seen the news footage of a wildfire where a huge wall of orange flames rush in to threaten a home. Contrary to popular belief, most homes do not ignite from direct contact with flame front. Most homes, an estimated 90%, are destroyed from embers. Depending on fire intensity, wind speed and the size of burning materials, embers can travel more than a mile away from the fire. These embers can become lodged in something easily ignited on, in or near the house, eventually starting a small fire which can grow and destroy the home. Proper attention to these vulnerable, easily-ignited areas of the home helps to decrease the home’s risk to being destroyed by wildfire. Check out the Be Ember Aware publication to identify these vulnerable spots at http://www.unce.unr.edu/publications/files/nr/2009/fs0905.pdf#search=”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 her husband and their mini Australian Shepard. Contact Jamie at 775-336-0261                       or roicej@unce.unr.edu.

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.

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

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