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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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