May is National Wildfire Awareness Month, and here in Nevada, we have good reason to take note – and to take action – according to local experts.
“While all the moisture we received this winter may be helpful in reducing drought conditions, it certainly doesn’t reduce the risk of wildfire, as vegetation will dry out,” said Jamie Roice-Gomes, manager of the Living With Fire Program at University of Nevada, Reno Extension.
Extension and its partners in the Living With Fire Program are kicking off the Nevada Wildfire Awareness Campaign this month, and will be at various community events through the summer and fall, providing information to help Nevadans live more safely with the threat, and reality, of wildfire.
Extension, in collaboration with firefighting agencies and other partners, has developed a myriad of information since the program’s inception over 25 years ago, much of which is now available online.
Roice-Gomes says that for starters, five areas of focus should be: cheatgrass, defensible space, flying embers, evacuation preparation and wildfire smoke.
“These are kind of a ‘big five’ to concentrate on,” she said. “If you want to protect yourself and your family, and hopefully your home, just start chipping away at informing yourself about these, and doing what you can to prepare in advance.”
Here are some tips on getting started with the “big five,” along with links for more detailed information.
1) Remove cheatgrass
Cheatgrass usually dries out quickly and can serve as good kindling for wildfires. Once ignited, and on windy days, these fires can create 8-foot flames traveling at almost 5 miles an hour. After the wet winter, cheatgrass is sure to be growing. Remove all cheatgrass within 30 feet of the home. To learn more about cheatgrass, see the publication A Homeowner’s Guide to Cheatgrass.
2) Create defensible space:
Defensible space is when the vegetation around your home has been managed to reduce the threat of wildfire and to allow an area for firefighters to safely defend your home. It is composed of three zones: the ember-resistant zone; the lean, clean and green zone; and the reduced fuel zone:
- The ember-resistant zone (0 to 5 feet from the home): To reduce the threat of ember ignition, it is critical to routinely remove all dead and flammable vegetation within 5 feet of your home. Remove woodpiles, wood mulch, dead leaves, pine needles, twigs, branches, pinecones, and flammable shrubs such as junipers and sagebrush.
- The lean, clean and green zone (5 to 30 feet from the home): The goal of this zone is to prevent fire spreading from the vegetation to the home. The term “lean” means that there is only a small amount of vegetation present in discontinuous islands. “Clean” means that all dead plant material is removed, and “green” means that this area is kept irrigated (if appropriate) during dry months.
- The reduced fuel zone (30 to 100+ feet from the home): In this zone, it’s important to reduce fire spread and fire moving into the crowns, or tops, of trees and shrubs. Remove any ladder fuels, or vegetation that can bring fire from the ground to the tops of trees, such as dead vegetative debris and lower tree branches.
- There is no “one size fits all” approach to defensible space, and these tips do not replace the expert advice of a defensible space inspection. To obtain a free defensible space inspection, contact your local fire agency, which you can find here on the Living With Fire website.
- For more information on creating defensible space, see the publication Fire Adapted Communities: The Next Step in Wildfire Preparedness.
3) Reduce the threat of ember ignition to your home
A common way homes ignite is from embers, or pieces of burning material that can travel a mile or more ahead of a fire. Research suggests embers cause up to 90% of home ignitions during wildfires. To reduce the threat of ember ignition to your home:
- Ensure that vents are screened with 1/8-inch noncombustible corrosion-resistant metal mesh screening.
- Remove all dried leaves, pine needles and other materials from rain gutters.
- If you have a roof composed of wood shakes or shingles, consider replacing it, as these roofs are similar to stacking hundreds of pounds of dried kindling on top of your home. Instead, use a Class A-rated roof composed of asphalt fiberglass composition shingles, clay and cementitious tiles (flat and barrel shaped), or some metal roofing materials.
- See the publications Be Ember Aware and Wildfire Home Retrofit Guide for more information on reducing the threat of ignition to your home
4) Be prepared in advance for evacuation:
Preparing ahead for evacuation can help you and your household remain calm and safely evacuate, leave your home in a condition that is most conducive to surviving a wildfire, and have the items you need for evacuation and possibly being away from your home for several hours or days. To be prepared for evacuation:
- Prepare a “go-bag”: Pack an evacuation go-bag ahead of time to aid in a quick and safe evacuation, should one become necessary.
- Review and have on hand the Wildfire Evacuation Checklist, which details actions to take should evacuation become necessary and includes a list of what to have in your go-bag.
- Always evacuate when asked to do so by firefighters and officials, and put your safety and the safety of others first.
5) Prepare for wildfire smoke
If smoke is in the air, monitor air quality by checking the AirNow Fire and Smoke Map. To protect yourself from unhealthy conditions:
- Stay safe indoors:
- Keep all windows closed and turn on the air conditioner.
- Create a “clean room,” a room with few windows and doors and no fireplace that is a large enough room for your family and a portable air cleaner or air purifier.
- Avoid creating additional smoke or particulate matter in the home.
- Protect yourself from smoke if you must be outdoors:
- Use a P100 or N95 respirator while outdoors.
- Reduce strenuous activities and take breaks.
- Stay hydrated. Adequate hydration keeps your airway lubricated, which keeps you safer from health impacts related to smoke.
- Consult with your doctor for medical advice, especially if you have heart or lung disease, or asthma.
- For more on how to prepare for wildfire smoke and protect your health, see the publication Living With Smoke: How to Be Prepared for Smoke Exposure.
For more information, contact Roice-Gomes.