Create a noncombustible area

Once again, we are tragically reminded that northern Nevada’s urban areas also need to be concerned with wildfire. Our urban wildfires, such as the recent Ridgeview Drive Fire in North Reno, are becoming more common, can occur at any time of the year, and are usually human-caused. Homeowners need to be proactive and protect themselves and their homes from wildfire.

As a wildfire approaches, thousands of burning embers may start showering a home. Often, they land on the roof, roll off or strike the side of the house, and fall to the ground. As a result, burning embers accumulate in the area immediately adjacent to the home. If easily ignitable materials are located there, a fire could start and threaten the home.

As part of an effective defensible space, fire-prevention experts recommend that homeowners living in high-fire-hazard areas create a noncombustible area within 3 feet to 5 feet of the footprint of the house. If an attached wooden deck is present, consider it part of the footprint. The noncombustible area is critical to house survival during a wildfire, particularly to wood-sided homes. An effective noncombustible area has the following characteristics:

  • Noncombustible ground covers, such as stone, gravel, cement, brick and pavers, are used.
  • Wood and bark mulches are not used.
  • If plants are present, emphasis is on ignition-resistant types, such as irrigated lawn, clover, herbaceous ground covers and flowers.
  • Landscape timbers or boards are not used in this area, particularly ones that connect to the house.
  • If trash cans are located in this area, they are metal types with tight-fitting lids.
  • Firewood, wood scrapes, cardboard and paper are not stored in this area.
  • Flammable liquids, such as gasoline and lighter fluid, are not present.
  • The area is kept free of dead plant material, including dead branches, dried leaves and needles, and cured grass and flowers.
  • Ornamental evergreen shrubs or trees, such as Tam juniper, are not used.
  • Large, mass plantings of shrubs are not present, particularly under windows, in front of foundation vents and below eave vents.
  • Foundation and eave vents are screened with one-eighth-inch wire mesh.
  • Combustible wood siding is replaced with noncombustible types, such as brick, rock, stucco and cement board.

The area immediately adjacent to a home can greatly influence its survival during a wildfire. It’s critical for homeowners living in northern Nevada’s high-fire-hazard neighborhoods to create and actively maintain a noncombustible area. However, the noncombustible area is only part of a home’s defense against wildfire. Homeowners also need to manage the vegetation extending 30 feet or more from the home, as well and use fire-resistant building materials.

For more information on how to reduce the wildfire threat to your home, go to www.livingwithfire.info, or contact your local University of Nevada Cooperative Extension office or fire department.

Ed Smith is a natural resource specialist for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.