Carson City Extension Educator JoAnne Skelly teaches residents affected by the Caughlin Fire about post-fire landscape care.

On November 18, 2011, a tree branch blew into a powerline igniting the Caughlin Fire in southwest Reno. Driven by winds gusting to 70 mph, the fire destroyed 26 homes and forced the evacuation of 10,000 residents. Two months later, the Washoe Drive fire occurred south of Reno destroying 29 homes. Cooperative Extension quickly responded to both events through the Living With Fire program.

As members of the Living With Fire team, Sonya Sistare and Grant Nejedlo sprang into action immediately upon receiving a local radio station’s text alert about the Caughlin Fire.  Sonya called the local network TV and radio stations to remind them of our evacuation instructions, conveniently placed in the information section of the Reno/Sparks AT &T Telephone Directory.  She also directed them to the website for additional resources.  The Reno Gazette journal published the instructions the next day. Social media became another useful tool as she and Grant both began posting frequent comments on multiple Facebook pages including those of the local TV and radio stations, the Nevada Fire Safe Council and UNCE’s own Living With Fire Facebook page.  The evacuation instructions were also placed on the home page of the Living With Fire website, with easy access to a downloadable file.  Because of their actions, thousands of Reno homeowners had the benefit of knowing what they should wear, what they should take and how to leave their home.

Cooperative Extension’s Ed Smith organized the first public meeting for Caughlin Fire victims. The meeting provided a post-fire update by Washoe County and City of Reno officials and presentations from UNCE faculty concerning post-fire landscape care, what native plants will grow back, reseeding after wildfire and potential invasive weed issues. Approximately 130 individuals were present, including homeowners, elected officials and agency representatives.

A week after the Washoe Drive Fire, UNCE hosted a series of three evening presentations at Pleasant Valley Elementary School for people impacted by the fire. The first presentation was by the Nevada Division of Insurance and dealt with insurance coverage and filing a claim. The other presentations covered post-fire landscape care and preparing homes for embers during a wildfire. Approximately 200 people attended the three events.

Washoe County Manager Katy Simon stated afterwards, “Wow!  What a great job last night at the Caughlin Fire update!  I was so impressed and proud to watch the presentations last night!  You all showed the best of public service–who we are and what we stand for.  Your professional expertise, knowledge, planning ability, and execution were absolutely flawless and outstanding.  Thank you for all that you have done on this difficult project, and all that you continue to do, to provide exceptional public service to our community.”

For more information about fire adapted communities and reducing the wildfire threat, resources to help during an evacuation and advice on returning to a home and landscape following wildfire, go to our recently improved and updated website:


University of Nevada Cooperative Extension invites residents affected by the Washoe Drive Fire to informational sessions on January 26, 30 and 31 to discuss post-fire insurance questions, learn how to help their landscapes recover from a wildfire and steps that can be taken now to help protect homes from embers during the next wildfire.

The presentations will run from 6-7 p.m. at Pleasant Valley Elementary School located at 405 Surrey Drive.

  • Thursday, January 26: Rajat Jain and Marie Holt, Nevada Division of Insurance, will present “Insurance – Recover, Rebuild, Restore” and field questions. The Nevada Division of Insurance protects the rights of Nevada’s consumers and is available to help file an insurance claim or answer questions about insurance.
  • Monday, January 30: JoAnne Skelly, UNCE Extension Educator Carson City/Storey County, will provide tips for homeowners on post-fire landscape care. Skelly worked extensively with property owners and their landscapes after the Waterfall Fire and will share what she learned from that experience.
  • Tuesday, January 31: Ed Smith, UNCE Natural Resource Specialist, will present the video “Be Ember Prepared” and will answer questions from the audience. Windblown embers were a major factor in home losses in both the Caughlin and Washoe Drive Fires.  Additional information on how to “Be Ember Aware” is also available at

The sessions are free and open to the public.  University of Nevada Cooperative Extension (UNCE) encourages persons with disabilities to participate in its programs and activities.  If you anticipate needing any type of accommodation or have questions about the physical access provided, please contact Sonya Sistare at 775-336-0271 or in advance of the event.  UNCE is an EEO/AA institution.

Insurance Commissioner Scott J. Kipper urges anyone affected by the Washoe Drive fire to contact the Nevada Division of Insurance (Division) if you have questions about insurance or need assistance with insurance claims.

Hazards that are generally covered by a home or renter’s insurance policy include damage from fire, wind, smoke or loss of use of your home. If you believe you have an insurance claim, immediately contact your insurance company or your insurance agent to file and discuss the details of your claim. Division’s team of insurance professionals can be reached at (775) 687-0700 or (888) 872-3234 to assist you with any questions that you may have. A list of the claims hotline numbers for Nevada’s ten largest home insurance carrier groups can be found at

What to Do Immediately Following the Fire

  • Immediately report your claim to your insurance company or your local agent. If available, have a copy of your policy and home inventory on hand. If you cannot find the company or agent’s number, call the Division of Insurance.
  • Make TEMPORARY repairs or arrange for a licensed professional to do so to prevent further damage or theft. SAVE all receipts for your repairs.
  • Take PHOTOS of the damage and remove undamaged personal property if your home cannot be secured.
  • Do NOT dispose of property until an insurance adjuster has reviewed it for your claim.
  • If you need to find other lodging, keep RECORDS of expenses and all receipts. Homeowners and renter’s insurance generally provide coverage for expenses like meals, rent and transportation.
  • If you do not have a HOME INVENTORY, make a list of items going room by room from memory. Include as much detail as possible, like where and when the item was purchased, the cost, brand name and model.

From Your Insurance Company

  • Your insurance company will send an insurance adjuster to survey the damage at no cost to you.
  • Do not feel rushed or pushed to agree on a settlement. If there are disagreements, try to resolve them with your insurer. If you cannot reach an agreement or have questions about the settlement being offered, contact the Division for assistance.
  • Your full claim may come in multiple payments. The first will likely be an emergency advance and may include additional living expenses. The payment for your personal property and any additional living expenses will be made out to you. Payments for the structure may be payable to you and your lien holder if there is a mortgage on your home.
  • Do NOT be surprised if your initial payment for damage to your home is made on an actual cash-value basis (after depreciation). If you have a replacement cost-based insurance policy (no deduction for depreciation), the insurance company will pay the rest of the amount AFTER completion of repairs (and production of receipts).

Making Repairs

  • Be WARY OF FRAUDSTERS who take advantage of the chaos following a wildfire. When choosing a contractor to make repairs, check licensing and references before hiring. Always insist on a written estimate before repairs begin and do not sign any contracts before the adjuster has examined the damage. The adjuster may want to see the estimate before you begin making repairs.
  • Do not pay a contractor the full amount up front or sign over your insurance settlement payment. A contractor should expect a down payment when the contract is signed and the remainder when the work is completed.
  • If the contractor finds hidden damage that was not discovered in the original assessment by the adjuster, contact your insurance company to resolve the difference. For any disagreements that cannot be resolved, contact the Division for assistance with your claim.

If your insurance company delays in responding to your claim, call the claims department to find out if an adjuster has been assigned. Verify your contact details, especially if you have evacuated your home. Call the Division for assistance if the delay is unreasonable.

Here are some additional links to helpful resources from the Division:

Homeowner’s Insurance Guide

Flood Insurance Guide – Note that Northern Nevada is under a flash flood watch tonight, a threat of particular concern for those living in burned areas.

Earthquake Insurance Guide

Homeowner’s Policies for Top 10 Home Insurance Groups

If you have any questions about the coverages in your policy, or if you need help with a problem regarding your claim following a fire or other loss at your home, contact the Division at (775) 687-0700 or (888) 872-3234.

If you are in the path of the Washoe Drive Fire and need advice on safe and effective evacuation, please consult our publication on Fire Adapted Communities. In it you will find advice on what to take, how you should prepare you home to increase the likelihood it will survive, and what to do if you cannot evacuate. We have also included this information on page A25 of the AT&T phone book in the event residents lose electricity.







By Ed Smith

Natural Resource Specialist

University of Nevada Cooperative Extension


For many, evidence of the Caughlin Fire is a daily reminder of the threat wildfire poses to the Reno area. Strong winds, burning embers, an abundance of dried leaves, needles and grass, inadequate defensible space and houses built from easily ignited materials played a huge role in the loss of homes during the Caughlin Fire. A question that hopefully springs from that event is what will we, as a community, do differently between now and the next wildfire?

Representatives from Washoe County's federal, state and local firefighting agencies, the Nevada Fire Safe Council, homeowners, county government and University of Nevada Cooperative Extension meet to discuss the elements of a new Washoe County CWPP planning guide and template.


Last year, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, representatives from local, state and federal firefighting agencies, and the Nevada Fire Safe Council introduced the concept of Fire Adapted Communities (FACs) to several Washoe County neighborhoods at risk from wildfire. FACs are communities located in wildfire-prone areas that can survive wildfire with little or no assistance from firefighters.

The FAC concept represents a departure from traditional thinking about our response to the wildfire threat. Historically, we responded by protecting communities with firefighters and equipment when wildfire occurred.  In FACs, the emphasis changes from “protection of communities” to “preparation of communities” and shifts the responsibility for dealing with the wildfire threat from being solely the fire department’s task to the community as a whole.

Shifting our thinking now is critical given some disturbing projections from the nation’s wildfire experts:

  • Fire seasons will become longer, more intense, and wildfires will be more difficult to control.
  • The number of people living in or adjacent to high fire-hazard areas will increase.
  • Our firefighting resources will not keep pace with the increased wildfire threat.

They concluded that the economic, environmental and societal costs of wildfire will dramatically increase in the future and identified FACs as a key component to minimizing the anticipated impacts from wildfire.

In 2012, Living With Fire will focus on the importance of Community Wildfire Protection Plans (CWPPs) as a vehicle for incorporating the FAC recommendations into community design and maintenance, and taking communities to the next step in wildfire preparedness.

CWPP planning assists communities in establishing priorities for protecting life, property and infrastructure. The plans can take a variety of forms, but at a minimum must:

  1. Be collaboratively developed
  2. Identify and prioritize areas and methods for hazardous fuel-reduction treatments
  3. Recommend measures to reduce the ignitability of structures throughout the community

The Living With Fire program and its partners are currently preparing a Washoe County Community-Level CWPP guide to assist communities into and through the CWPP process.

It’s important for residents to begin asking questions like “what is the wildfire threat to my community?” and “how do I prepare for wildfire?” By reading the educational materials at, taking the steps to become a FAC and by starting the CWPP process, Reno residents can prepare themselves for the next wildfire and greatly decrease its impact on their home and family.

Please check back regularly as we develop this program.

By JoAnne Skelly

Extension Educator, Carson City/Storey County

University of Nevada Cooperative Extension


The Deer Run fire two weeks ago in east Carson City and the November fire in Caughlin Ranch are reminders that we need to prepare our homes against wildfire. While these fire events are unusual for this time of year, we can’t get complacent once winter arrives and think, “Oh, fire season is over,” particularly when the weather has been so dry.

The Deer Run Fire in Carson City ignited on December 30 and threatened several homes.

Is your home ember prepared? Will your home survive when (not if) the embers arrive? During a wildfire, thousands of embers can rain down on your roof and pelt the side of your home like hail during a storm. If these embers become lodged in something easily ignited on or near your house, the home will be in jeopardy of burning. Embers coming into contact with flammable material is a major reason why homes are destroyed during wildfire.

Common materials that become embers during wildfire include dry leaves, pine cones, branches, tree bark, twigs and wooden shingles. Depending on fire intensity, wind speed and the size of materials that are burning, embers can be carried more than a mile ahead of the fire. Consequently, even homes located blocks away from the actual flame front are vulnerable to ignition and complete destruction.

By Being Ember Aware! and taking action ahead of time, a homeowner can greatly reduce the ember threat. Things to check as you ember prepare your home include:

  • Replace wood shake roofs with fire-resistant types.
  • Plug openings in roof coverings and cover attic, eave and foundation vents with 1/8 –inch mesh or install new vent types designed to prevent ember entry.
  • Keep rain gutters free of plant debris.
  • Routinely remove plant debris such as branches and needles from the roof.
  • Replace plastic skylights with types constructed with double-pane tempered glass.
  • Install an approved spark arrester on chimneys.
  • Replace single-pane windows with multiple-pane tempered glass types.
  • Replace wood mulches with noncombustible types and remove plant debris, including dried grass and flowers, dead leaves and branches from flowerbeds next to the house, other buildings and next to wooden fences and decks.
  • Replace ornamental junipers with low-growing deciduous shrubs or flowers under irrigation.
  • Maintain wooden fences in good condition and create a noncombustible fence section or gate next to the house for at least five feet.
  • Move firewood stacks and scrap lumber piles at least 30 feet from the house or other buildings.

For complete information on increasing your home and property’s wildfire safety, download a copy of Fire Adapted Communities – The Next Step in Wildfire Preparedness or go to

By JoAnne Skelly

Extension Educator, Carson City/Storey County

University of Nevada Cooperative Extension

The Caughlin Fire has raised many questions from homeowners on how to save their landscapes. People want to know how to tell if their trees are alive or whether they can be saved. They want to know what to do first and whether they should prune now.

Fire damages trees or shrubs in a number of ways:

  • Trunk or branch damage
  • Inner tissue injury
  • Leaf or needle scorch
  • Bud death
  • Root damage

Since the Caughlin fire occurred when trees are entering dormancy, trees may be more likely to survive. It will depend on fire intensity and length of exposure to the tree. Thickness of bark also influences survival. Chemical content is another factor. Evergreen trees have a high oil and wax content and a greater burn potential. Leafless, deciduous trees that have an open loose branching pattern are more likely to survive. Trees stressed due to drought, injury, disease, insects are weak to begin with and unlikely to survive.

To determine if a tree will survive, look to see if the bark is completely burned off exposing the tender tissue underneath. When the bark is gone, the tree probably won’t survive. If there is bark, cut a quarter-sized piece off to see if there is a green or white layer immediately below the bark. If the layer beneath is green or white, the tree has a good chance of recuperating. If the trunk is severely burned for more than 50 percent around the circumference, the tree will probably die, although some thick-barked trees may survive. To check if burned branches are alive, peel back a bit of bark on twigs. If there is a thin layer underneath that is green or white and it is moist, the twigs may be alive. Wait to see if they have spring growth before pruning these branches. Where the fire burned deeply into the trunk, the tree will be unstable and survival is unlikely. These are hazard trees and should be removed. Evergreen trees may survive if more than 10 percent of their foliage is still green. Whether evergreen or deciduous, check the buds. They should be moist not brittle.

See if the roots are burned around the base of the tree. Gently brush away soil 6 to 8 inches deep in a few locations and see if roots appear supple rather than dry and brittle. If 50 percent of the roots have been burned, the tree is unstable, may be toppled by wind and is likely to die.

To care for fire damaged trees water them as soon as possible. Plants will need water because soils were dried out by the fire. Some soils may repel water. Fire-damaged and water-stressed trees are more susceptible to bark beetle attack. Prune off dead, broken or severely damaged limbs. Trees that must be cut down should be removed from the property to avoid beetle infestations.

After a fire, when evaluating what steps to take, think about safety first. Check for unstable trees or tree limbs that may fall. Then, take care of remaining trees and be patient. Many trees can survive a fire.

For more information on landscape care after fire see the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension publication Taking Care of Residential Trees after Wildfire or contact JoAnne Skelly at 775-887-2252 or

  WUI Summit Attendees Wearing Their New “I Have a Role” Shirts 

On September 19 and 20, Ed Smith and his team held the fifth annual Nevada Wildland-Urban Interface Fire Summit at University of Nevada, Reno’s Joe Crowley Student Union. The purpose of the summit is to invite representatives from Nevada’s 173 “extreme”, “high” and “moderate” wildfire-hazard rated communities, fire service personnel responsible for those communities, county managers, and others to discuss how to lower their hazard ratings and to promote action at the local level. As part of the Living With Fire program, this event is made possible with funding from the Bureau of Land Management, the Nevada Fire Safe Council, Sierra Front Wildfire Cooperators, and the Nevada Division of Forestry in cooperation with the USDA Forest Service.

Fire Chief Mike Brown, from North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District, emceed the event which was organized around the theme “I have a role.” As we make the important shift in our thinking about the wildfire threat, a shift from protecting communities at all costs to preparing them to withstand wildfire, it’s important to celebrate the various roles people have in community wildfire preparedness. In addition to homeowners—who probably have the most important role—we discussed the roles of firefighters, landscapers, construction workers, and politicians like State Senator Gail Griffin (AZ), who spoke about her experiences while evacuating during the Monument Fire this summer. We also heard from proactive housing developer, Chris Heftel. He spoke about the decisions he made when designing and building River Bluff Ranch, a new community in Spokane, Wash. To him, building a community capable of withstanding wildfire by creating defensible space, providing adequate road access for resident evacuation and fire engines, using ignition resistant building materials, installing water sources for fighting fires, and situating homes so fire racing up steep slopes would be less likely to ignite them, just made good business sense.

A few key results from the event include:

     –  111 people attended  

     –  13 of Nevada’s 17 counties were represented  

     –  35 percent of the participants were community representatives  

     –  32 percent of the participants were attending for the first time  

   –  33 of the 173 “extreme,” “high” or “moderate” hazard communities were represented, with three additional communities from the Lake Tahoe Basin. 

More importantly, though, are the responses to surveys we collected from participants. Namely, that 100 percent of respondents said they planned to take some sort of action to reduce the wildfire threat upon returning home, including communicating with neighbors and absentee owners, educating and informing community members, creating defensible space, and getting more involved with their Nevada Fire Safe chapter. A full report on the Fire Summit can be found at

One attendee, DebiLynn Smith of Topaz Ranch Estates in Douglas County, provided this glowing comment: “Thanks to my participation in the 2011 WUI Summit, I now have the knowledge, tools and motivation to help myself, my family, my neighbors and my community prepare for the threat of wildfire.”

As we work to decrease the wildfire-hazard rating of Nevada’s at-risk communities and create fire adapted communities capable of surviving wildfire with little or no firefighter assistance, getting community members informed and engaged will be crucial. After all, wildfire survival takes a community, and we all have a role.