May is Nevada Wildfire Awareness Month and this year’s theme is “Improve Your Odds – Prepare for Wildfire.” During this month, activities that promote wildfire threat reduction to communities are taking place throughout the state. Locally “Junk the Junipers” encourages homeowners to remove ornamental junipers from around their homes. This year, there are two dates and locations to drop off junipers and other woody plant material for disposal at no charge. Participants will also receive a 30% off coupon from Moana Nursery for a more desirable replacement plant.
On May 16, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., junipers can be delivered to the Nevada Division of Forestry at 885 Eastlake Blvd in Washoe Valley. On May 23, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., bring them to the area next to the Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District Fire Station in Silver Lake at 11525 Red Rock Road.
Ornamental junipers, such as Chinese juniper, are one of northern Nevada’s most popular landscape plants. They are often used in mass foundation plantings adjacent to houses. There’s a lot to like about ornamental junipers. They are drought tolerant, stay green year-round, are relatively disease free, are not very fussy about soil type and require little care. Sounds like the perfect plant for Nevada’s tough environment, right? Wrong. Unfortunately, especially as they mature, they are easily ignited and burn intensely. Local firefighters have nicknamed them “gasoline plants.” Several attributes contribute to the juniper’s onerous reputation as a fire threat:
- Ornamental junipers often accumulate dead leaves and branchlets within their crowns. Pull back the branches of a mature juniper and see for yourself. These little “jackpots” of fuel are easily ignited by windblown embers produced by a wildfire. Thick layers of dead plant debris also build up underneath the shrubs. Juniper branches are so thick they hide this flammable material and it accumulates unnoticed. In addition, the dense foliage can be irritating to the skin, making clean-up a very unpleasant chore.
- They are dense plants. There is usually a lot more plant material, i.e., potential fire fuel, in a 3-foot tall juniper than there is in other similar sized, more open-branched deciduous shrubs. For example, compare the amount of branch and foliage material in a juniper to more open-branched shrubs like red twig dogwood, forsythia, rose or barberry.
- Juniper’s awl-shaped leaves and numerous small branchlets present a large volume of fine textured fuel. This type of fuel dries out and heats up quickly becoming an easily ignitable ember trap.
- Like most coniferous plants, junipers contain volatile oils. These chemicals can cause a juniper to burn intensely.
In the Caughlin Fire After Action Analysis, junipers located next to structures were identified as one of the contributing factors to the loss and damage of homes. During Carson City’s Waterfall Fire, firefighters observed ornamental junipers igniting hours after the fire front had passed through the neighborhood. Embers produced by the fire had become lodged inside junipers, went unnoticed while smoldering and eventually ignited.
In 2006, the University of Florida tested the combustibility of 34 popular ornamental shrub species. Test results showed that Chinese juniper was one of the most flammable plants tested and researchers recommended that they not be planted close to structures. In Nevada, we recommend removing ornamental junipers within 30 feet of your house.
Once the junipers are removed, what should you replace them with?
- Herbaceous plants, such as lawn, annual and perennial flowers and bulbs, that are kept green during fire season via irrigation.
- Deciduous shrubs, preferable less than 2 feet in height and under irrigation.
- Noncombustible landscape materials, such as gravel, rock and pavers.
For more information on good plant choices, go to www.LivingWithFire.info/learning-center and download the publication “Choosing the Right Plants for Northern Nevada’s High Fire Hazard Areas.” You can also receive a hard copy of this publication by contacting your local University of Nevada Cooperative Extension office. Improve your odds and prepare for wildfire. Junk your junipers on May 16 and May 23 and replace with a better plant choice. These events are a collaborative effort between Bureau of Land Management, Silver Lake Volunteer Fire Department, Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District, Nevada Division of Forestry and University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. For a complete list of Nevada Wildfire Awareness Month activities, go to www.LivingWithFire.info.
Living With Fire Can Help You Prepare for Wildfire
If you live in one of Nevada’s wildfire prone areas, you need to know about University of Nevada Cooperative Extension’s Living With Fire Program. Living With Fire is an award winning interagency effort coordinated by Cooperative Extension that teaches Nevadans how to prepare for wildfire.
Visiting the Living With Fire website at www.LivingWithFire.info will introduce you to an informative array of publications and programs available to assist homeowners in preparing for wildfire. Some examples include:
Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP): A CWPP is a document that describes the wildfire threat a community faces and provides recommendations to reduce the threat and improve survivability. This online fill-in-the-blank CWPP template simplifies the planning process and encourages the completion of more plans for Nevada’s vulnerable communities. Accompanying the template is a CWPP how-to guide.
Nevada Community Risk and Wildfire Hazard Assessment Digital Form: In 2002, Nevada’s Wildland Fire Agencies Board of Directors developed a uniform community wildfire risk and hazard assessment. The website presents a digital version of this assessment method that prompts the user to check the appropriate boxes for a variety of characteristics that best describes their community. Once the characteristics have been identified, the community hazard rating is auto-calculated. This assessment tool can be found under the CWPP tab on the website.
Presentations and Display Systems: A variety of presentations and display systems are also available for use at community events, HOA meetings, etc. To learn more about these opportunities, contact Sonya at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The best time to address the wildfire threat to your home is before the wildfire starts. Improve your odds and start preparing today!