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

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.

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.

Defensible space inspections are performed around a home to note areas in need of mitigation in order to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire. Watch the video as outreach coordinator, Jamie Roice-Gomes interviews Nevada Division of Forestry’s fire protection officer, Chanse Hunwardsen about defensible space inspections. Stay tuned for next month’s blog as Jamie reviews the results from her home’s defensible space inspection.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BzeWPjxSB1I&feature=youtu.be

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.

If a fire destroyed your home, would you be able to remember the estimated value and age of all your possessions for insurance purposes? Yea, me neither! Since September is National Preparedness Month, I started an inventory of my personal belongings. It’s important as it provides an accurate record of a homeowner’s possessions, helps process insurance claims faster, and helps one purchase the correct amount of insurance. The inventory is critical to document losses due to fire but also to other causes such as flooding, burglary, and vandalism.

Below I review three recommended methods to inventory one’s belongings. While there may be other options, the important thing is to pick one and become prepared during National Preparedness Month!

A representative from the Nevada Division of Insurance recommended utilizing either a free smart phone app or a PDF inventory sheet created by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC).  In addition, the Living With Fire (LWF) Program also has a more detailed inventory sheet.

1screenshot_20160908-130836

An example of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners Scr.APP.book app on a smartphone

Both the smartphone App and PDF inventory sheet can be found at the following link: http://www.insureuonline.org/insureu_special_disaster.htm

One can always install the app on their smart phone by searching for Scr.APP.book (see above). The app’s interface is very user friendly and makes it easy to upload photos. Once the app is installed, click the icon, “ADD ITEM” and complete the screen (see above). One can take multiple photos of the item by clicking the camera button at the top, taking a photo and then clicking “OK”. The information entered on the form can be retained by clicking the save button. To view the items already input into the form, click the item list and edit information if necessary. An individual form must be completed for each item in the home. This information can then be exported from the app to be e-mailed, or saved to a computer or flash drive. Additionally, there are tips and resources on the app to connect to the NAIC and become more informed regarding advisable insurance coverage.

naic-checklist-pdf

A screenshot of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners home inventory checklist PDF

The PDF inventory sheet is also easy to use but, unlike the app, users must first print the form, record the information by hand and attach separate pictures to the inventory sheet (see above).  Each item’s information such as item identification, price, date purchased, and brand name must be entered on the form for each separate room. The completed form along with photographs can then be retained as a hard copy.  Users must remember to keep the inventory sheet and photos separate from the house. This ensures that in the event of a disaster, the inventory sheet is not destroyed along with the house. Here is a direct link to print the inventory checklist:

http://www.insureuonline.org/home_inventory_checklist.pdf

weblwf-household-inventory-checklist

Above is a view of the My Household Inventory Checklist by the Living With Fire Program

Unlike the NAIC form, item information can be entered and edited directly on a computer and can be saved to a drive, thumb drive, etc. (see above).  This inventory sheet asks for more information than the NAIC options, BUT also provides users with a more detailed inventory of belongings. The inventory sheet suggests considering items that I normally wouldn’t have, including silverware, clothing, tools, and recreation equipment. The LWF Program inventory also explains how to calculate the current cash value of items and recommends including this as part of the record. While calculating the current cash value of each item isn’t necessary, it helps to estimate the item’s worth for insurance reimbursement purposes. As with the NAIC PDF inventory sheet, pictures must be taken of the items and attached or saved to the PDF. To download this method, click here: http://www.livingwithfire.info/how-we-can-help and scroll down to the “Household Inventory Program” tab.

Out of all three options, I felt that the smartphone app was by far the easiest to use because my smart phone’s camera is linked to the app. The app stores the photos and inventory information all in one place. If I were to complete the other two inventory sheets, I would need to take a photo of each item, print it out, or save it digitally and link it to the completed form. However, I do recommend reviewing the Living With Fire Program’s inventory sheet as it made me consider adding other items that I wouldn’t have otherwise considered.  Overall, this process is very time consuming as it took me a total of two hours to document only six items on the app. It’s recommended to inventory one’s belongings for a couple of hours each weekend to prevent documentation burn out. I began my inventory process with the larger, more recently purchased items however after reviewing the LWF inventory, I’ll need to include more of a detailed list such as my silverware and clothing. I’ve started keeping copies of my receipts for my purchased items, making it easier to look up the brand, item’s name, price, etc.  Remember it’s better to have an incomplete list rather than no list at all.  Once your list is complete, store it in a safety deposit box, save a digital copy, or place a copy with a trusted friend or family member. Just ensure the inventory is not destroyed if your house is a total loss.

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.

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.