In 2003, I wrote an article on making a home firesafe. I started with this, “The raging fires in California are a terrible reminder of the wildfire risk of living in the urban-wildland interface.” Now, 16 years later, that initial sentence bears repeating. With climate change/global warming, we are seeing hotter, more intense, faster spreading wildfires than ever before. Fuels such as brush, grasses and trees are tinder dry everywhere, including Northern Nevada.
I ask readers again, “Is your home firesafe?” People want to live where the sagebrush meets the pines and might be totally unaware of the high risk of wildfire there and in most of Northern Nevada. This area possesses all the ingredients necessary to support large, intense and uncontrollable fires. As wildfire educators teach, “It’s not a question of if a wildfire will occur, but when.” Our ability to live more safely in this fire environment greatly depends on our prefire activities.
Actions homeowners and the community take prior to a fire can improve the survivability of people and homes. These activities include proper vegetation management around the home and structures; use of fire-resistant building materials; and appropriate subdivision design for fire protection equipment access and homeowner egress during an evacuation event.
Don’t think that the defense of your home against a wildfire is only the fire department’s responsibility. The Sonoma fire is almost 77,000 acres as I write this. That’s about 118 square miles and is so challenging to local county and state firefighting resources that other states, including Nevada, have been called in to help. Even with adequate firefighting resources, some wildfires are so intense that there may be little firefighters can do to prevent a home from burning.
The key to reduce fire intensity is to be prepared for flying embers as a wildfire nears a home. Reduce the amount of ignition sources: flammable vegetation and other flammable materials surrounding a home. The most important person in protecting a home from wildfire is the property owner. It’s the actions taken before a wildfire, such as proper landscape design and maintenance, that can increase the chances of a home’s survival.
High winds in dry areas can transform a small seemingly easily controlled fire into a catastrophic event in a matter of minutes. Here in Nevada, we have had devastating fires even in the fall. Fire season is never over anymore. To find out more about how to prepare your home before a fire, go to www.livingwithfire.info.
JoAnne Skelly is associate professor and Extension educator, Emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.