That the West is on fire is not an understatement, with 16 active fires in Nevada alone. As the Long Valley Fire continues to burn, joint efforts from multiple fire agencies have contained the Draw Fire and the most recent Brenda Fire in Washoe Valley. For many homeowners, including myself, these fires have come too close for comfort.
I have spoken with grateful homeowners who credit their saved homes to the efforts of firefighters, though many are now faced with charred landscapes. As you look out your window, the open landscape that was once filled with native big sagebrush, bitterbrush, rabbitbrush, grasses, pinion pine and Utah juniper is now a black, desolate environment.
Every landscape will respond differently after fire, as each fire burns with different intensity. Wildfire experts, who study fire science, rate the intensity of fires by examining vegetation, terrain, weather and wind patterns. A cheatgrass-driven fire burns with less intensity than a fire burning in dense bitterbrush and pinion pine due to the height, density, type of vegetation and other factors. Depending on the intensity and severity of the wildfire near your home, you may be left with some plants still living, or you may be experiencing a complete loss of vegetation.
The last few evenings, I have walked behind my home to see if all the native plants were completely killed by the fire. The landscape is not what you would expect. There are areas where plants had been burned to the ground and others that were only lightly touched by the flames. To judge how some of these plants may come back after fire, you need to know the plant species and how they propagate, and have an idea of how the fire burned. I was happy to find, as I gently scratched around some of the perennial bunchgrasses that were scorched, that their roots still showed signs of moisture and did not crumble as they would if they had been burned.
What vegetation will come back? I can already tell some of the bunchgrasses near my home will come back, but you will need to observe your own landscape to see what has survived. If areas close to your home only lightly burned, some moisture could save plants on the verge. For most plants, we must wait and see, as all fires burn with different intensity. Reseeding or planting during the fall months could be an option to help bring back burned areas more quickly and reduce dust and erosion potential. You may also need to make adjustments to the landscape if you live near a hillside that has burned. The vegetation that once slowed runoff from seasonal rains could be gone. You may need to create ditches to divert potential flooding away from your home or plant windrows for dust reduction and to hold the soil. For appropriate plants for revegetation, visit the Nevada Division of Forestry State Tree Nursery. For more information on wildfire preparedness and a publication on What Grows Back After the Fire, visit the Living With Fire website. Take the time to assess your landscape and decide what changes you need to make to keep your home safe from the next wildfire.
Wendy Hanson Mazet is a horticulturist and certified arborist with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Have questions about your landscape or plants? Contact a Master Gardener at 775-336-0265 or firstname.lastname@example.org.