Ember aware tip #9: Fuel breaks are not enough to stop a wildfire
They help control blazes but are no substitute for defensible space
Note: This is the ninth in an ongoing series of tips for homeowners living in fire-prone areas. Each week, Cooperative Extension Natural Resource Specialist Ed Smith will be providing Be Ember Aware tips for homeowners who want to reduce the risk of losing their home to embers created from wildfires. Nevada has more than 250 communities that face a wildfire threat, and 68 communities are at extreme and high risk. For more information on protecting your home from wildfires, visit Living With Fire.
By: Ed Smith, natural resource specialist, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension
In recent years, there has been a lot of effort put into the creation of fuel breaks around some of western Nevada’s high fire hazard communities. Fuel breaks are usually a strip of land where flammable vegetation has been removed and less hazardous vegetation is retained or planted. In our area, this often means mowing sagebrush and bitterbrush with machinery and leaving the grasses and wildflowers. Fuel breaks vary in width, ranging from 30 feet or less to more than 100 feet.
Surprising to many people, the primary purpose of a fuel break is not necessarily to stop an oncoming fire. Typically, fuel breaks are created to improve the ability of firefighters to control an advancing wildfire. A fuel break can reduce fire intensity, provide an area to light a backfire, improve access for firefighters, and improve the effectiveness of fire retardants dropped from aircraft.
Unfortunately, fuel breaks can also provide a false sense of security. Some homeowners assume that once the fuelbreak is created, they are now fire safe and that no further action on their part is required. This is not true. Wind-driven embers can be transported over the fuel break and ignite new fires on the other side. Homes which have not prepared for the ember threat are vulnerable despite the presence of the fuel break.
While community-level fuel breaks are important to reducing the wildfire threat, they are not enough. Homeowners must continue to do their part by creating defensible space and making their properties resistant to ignition from embers.
To learn more about protecting your home from the ember threat, visit Living With Fire and request a free copy of our new publication, Be Ember Aware! You can also download it at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension or contact Ed Smith. Be Ember Aware is a component of the Living With Fire program, an interagency program coordinated by University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.