Column: Nevada prone to fire hazards

Nevada is a high fire-hazard environment, as evidenced by the recent area fires.

Our region possesses all the necessary ingredients to support large, intense and uncontrollable wildfires.

It's not a question of "if" a wildfire will occur but "when."

The likelihood of human life and property loss is great and growing.

Is your home prepared for wildfire? Have you created a defensible space?

Defensible space refers to that area between a house and an oncoming wildfire where vegetation has been modified to reduce wildfire threat and to provide a safe place for firefighters to defend your home.

The plants growing on your property can be a threat. What is growing adjacent to your home can have considerable influence upon the survivability of the house.

All vegetation is potential wildfire fuel, including ornamental plants and naturally occurring native plants.

If vegetation is properly modified and maintained, a wildfire can be slowed, the length of flames shortened and the amount of heat reduced, all of which assists firefighters in defending the home against an oncoming wildfire.

The three R's of defensible space are removal, reduction and replacement.

Remove trees and shrubs that are dead, dying or highly flammable.

Reduce flammable plant parts. For example, this could include pruning dead wood from a shrub, removing low tree branches or mowing dried grass. Replace more hazardous vegetation with less flammable plants. For example, remove a dense stand of flammable sagebrush and plant an irrigated, well-maintained flower bed instead.

Defensible space does not have to be bare ground, although bare ground does create a fuel break.

A well-irrigated, well-maintained landscape also can create the defensible space needed for your home.

How large is an effective defensible space?

The necessary distance is not the same for every property, but varies by slope and type of wildland vegetation growing near the house.

If your property is on flat land surrounded by grasses such as cheatgrass, your recommended defensible space distance extends 30 feet from the sides of the house/garage.

If your house is on a 25 percent slope and the adjacent wildland vegetation is dense tall brush, your recommended safety distance is 200 feet.

You might have to work cooperatively with neighbors to create a defensible space when your safety distance crosses onto their property.

First, remove any dead vegetation from the area.

Then break up continuous vegetation - plants that grow closely together.

Get rid of ladder fuels, which are series of adjacent plants that gradually increase in height, such as low-growing junipers, followed by large sagebrush and then tall pines.

Ladder fuels allow flames to climb from one plant to another, increasing length of flames and fire intensity. Keep an area extending a minimum of 30 feet from the house "lean, clean and green." Do this by allowing only small amounts of flammable vegetation; no accumulation of dead vegetation or other flammable debris; and healthy, green plants during fire season - May to Oct.

For a free copy of "Living with Fire, a Guide for the Homeowner," call the University of Nevada, Reno Cooperative Extension at 887-2252 in Carson City or at 782-9960 in Douglas County.

Master gardener training is available from Sept. 12 through Oct. 12, from 6:30-9:30 p.m., on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at the Carson City Cooperative Extension office. The fee is $100, and the deadline for registration is Sept. 1. For information, call the University of Nevada, Reno Cooperative Extension, 784-4848 in Reno, 887-2252 in Carson City/Storey County or 782-9960 in Douglas County.

(JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County extension educator for the University of Nevada, Reno Cooperative Extension. If you have gardening questions, call the extension at 887-2252 in Carson City/Storey County or 782-9960 in Douglas County. Get your landscape and garden questions answered at or visit the Web site at


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