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.

After experiencing the recent Driscoll Fire, (click here to view last month’s blog) it becomes even more important to continue my efforts to make my home wildfire prepared. I look to the publication, “Be Ember Aware!” for ideas on how to reduce the wildfire threat to my home. This publication contains a list of 22 places around the home that can be vulnerable to ignition by windblown embers produced by a wildfire. During a wildfire, embers can be blown over a mile away from the main flame front and can bombard a home easily igniting these flammable spots. In fact, embers are the major reason why homes are destroyed in wildfires. I won’t review all 22 of the vulnerable areas, but will note some of my home’s problem areas that require attention.

Once I removed the cedar tree in the front yard, (click here for my first month’s blog) it was apparent that our foundation vent had a hole in it and needed to be covered with 1/8-inch wire mesh. If embers were pelting my house, the hole in the vent would have provided an easy entry for embers to blow into the crawlspace and ignite the home.

crawlspace vent broken

The hole in the crawlspace vent.

UGH, my weathered deck. Unfortunately, my husband and I have yet to replace or maintain our deck. All decks should be in good condition to resist ember ignition. It’s also a good idea to remove all combustible debris out from under the deck as those are a fire hazard.  Even the accumulated litter between deck floor boards can be a source of ignition from embers.  A few months ago, my husband and I purchased wooden lattice panels to enclose the deck. However, the publication recommends using “ignition-resistant siding materials”, or 1/8-inch wire mesh to prevent debris and embers from blowing under the deck – I guess we won’t be using those panels.

The condition of my deck. Also note the open space between the deck and the ground.

The condition of my deck. Also note the open space between the deck and the ground.

under deck

A view beneath the deck. The dead vegetation under the deck must be removed.

My home “to-do” list continues to get longer and longer but at least I have an idea of how to keep my home safe from embers. For a full list of vulnerable, flammable areas of your home check out the “Be Ember Aware!” publication (click here for the “Be Ember Aware!” publication) Also, keep an eye out for more of my lessons and experiences with these blogs.

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.

As the new Outreach Coordinator with the Living With Fire Program, I thought it was fitting to share my trials and tribulations as an owner of an older home in a fire prone area. In 2014 my husband and I purchased our dream home which is nestled in the hills of old Southwest Reno. As first-time homebuyers of a 46 year old home, we discovered the learning curve was steep regarding proper landscape maintenance. I used to look at my yard and shake my head in disbelief and wonder, “Where do I start?” Wait…who am I kidding, I still do that!

The picture marked “Before” is a Google photo of our front yard before we purchased the home. The number “1” represents the ornamental junipers. The number “2” marks the cedar trees. The picture marked “After” is what our home looks like today.

google photo front yard 2011After front yard photo blog 1

After comparing the “before” and “after” photos, it’s apparent that we removed the junipers and cedars. Junipers are bad news during a wildfire because embers can become lodged within them, smolder, ignite and burn at high intensity later after firefighters leave. Firefighters often refer to junipers as “little green gas cans”. I knew these plants were flammable in a wildfire and I ensured this was one of the first plants to remove. The homeowners before me also planted two cedar trees up against the house. The overgrown trees had grown into the roof eaves and were touching the house. This is also a fire hazard and during my first week on the job, I learned that evergreen shrubs such as junipers and trees such as cedar should be located a minimum of 30 feet from the house. In the “after” photo, you can see that these evergreens were removed.

Also in the “after” photo, one can see that we replaced our landscape rock with shredded wood mulch. Unfortunately, on the FIRST day of my job I learned that a home with mulch within the first five feet of a home is NOT desirable. Embers from a wildfire can ignite the mulch, and produce flames next to the house. I also learned that embers are the main reason why homes catch fire during a wildfire. While mulch is aesthetically pleasing, I urge others to not make the same mistake as me and instead use landscape rock, gravel, hard surfaces or herbaceous plants. (Now I have the lovely task of convincing my husband that the mulch MUST be replaced.)

While I have more work ahead of me, these are some of my lessons and experiences as I brave the world of homeownership. To those interested, I highly recommend looking at the publication, “Choosing the Right Plants”. Stay tuned for more of my trials and tribulations!

Jamie Headshot

 

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 her husband and their mini Australian Shepard. Contact Jamie at 775-336-0261775-336-0261 or roicej@unce.unr.edu.

Recently, I had a defensible space inspection performed on my property by Nevada Division of Forestry’s fire protection officer, Chanse Hunwardsen. Chanse noted some problem areas that I have previously addressed in former blogs, and he also addressed some issues that I had not considered. Watch this video to learn what issues were found and how to resolve them.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2tuvMbjlRIY&feature=youtu.be

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.

Last July’s Carpenter 1 Fire made national headlines and filled the skies of Las Vegas with smoke. A recent YouTube search turned up a video, posted by the U.S. Forest Service, about the role fuels reduction projects played in saving many homes in the Mt. Charleston area from wildfire.

You might be wondering “What is a fuels reduction project?” Don’t worry, so was I. In the video, a Nevada Division of Forestry representative explains that a fuels reduction project is meant to thin vegetation, to reduce space between trees, shrubs and understory plants to reduce speed, flame lengths, and fire intensity when a fire burns up to the area. The video also shows a map of a strip of fuels reduction, also known as a fuel break, and explains that it, along with the firefighters, are responsible for saving the homes in Trout Canyon. Watch it here.

As fuel breaks seem to be effective in saving a community from an oncoming wildfire, how do I know if my community needs one? Time for some sleuthing.

As a Nevada Division of Forestry Fire Protection Officer, Paul Carmichael performs home assessments and provides fuel reduction recommendations for homeowners. He uses Living With Fire material and his experience with fire and fuels to make recommendations to reduce a home or community’s wildfire threat.

To get started Paul suggested talking to neighbors to get buy in for the project and giving your local fire department a call to see where to go next. An important step to include in the process is a maintenance plan.  Vegetation grows back, and all that hard-won space can become very flammable again over time.

I’d imagine that establishing a fuel break would not only be labor intensive, but expensive as well. Paul had a suggestion for me there too. Local fire departments, county representatives, or sometimes even established homeowners associations can apply for grant funding to get the work done. One he suggested in particular was the Nevada Division of Forestry’s State Fire Assistance Grant. Read up on the program here.

I think many of my neighbors would agree that a fuel break around our community would bring us all a little more peace of mind. The process seems like a bit of an endeavor, but I like the idea of working together with my neighbors and local fire department to get started. Ultimately our community will be closer, and much safer, for it.

Let’s get to work!

Natalie Newcomer

 

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

 

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