When it comes to wildfire, Nevada is confronted with a dire prediction: fires are forecast to burn more frequently and more intensely in the future. Recent and ongoing fires in Colorado and Arizona show how uncontrollably a wildfire can burn through a community. And how dangerous and deadly they can be for firefighter, as the tragedy in Arizona has shown.
The good news is a community in a wildfire-prone area can be designed and maintained to survive wildfire, even with little or no firefighter assistance. These neighborhoods are called Fire Adapted Communities (FAC) and during a wildfire they reduce the potential for loss of life and injury, minimize damage to homes, land and infrastructure, and reduce firefighting costs.
There are five critical elements of a FAC:
- Creating areas that provide community protection,
- Establishing effective defensible space,
- Providing adequate access,
- Using appropriate building materials and maintenance techniques, and
- Preparing for evacuation.
It’s particularly important that residents learn how create effective defensible space and then maintain it. Creating an effective defensible space serves critical functions like:
- Making fires less likely to start when burning embers are swirling about,
- Decreasing flame lengths, which can prevent fire from traveling into tree canopies, and
- Shortening the amount of time a fire burns on your property.
Topaz Ranch Estate resident Estelle Whalen said defensible space is what saved her home from being destroyed when the wind rapidly drove a wildfire across her property last year. “The fire stopped right at the areas I cleared. Everything around the cleared paths was on fire, cheatgrass and brush and trees were burning.”
Defensible space has been attributed to many homes surviving recent western Nevada wildfires and as most homeowners find out, an effective defensible space doesn’t have to mean creating a large expanse of bare ground around your home. The property can still look appealing, while creating a safer area in which to defend the home. And even if firefighters are not available, defensible space improves the likelihood of a home surviving without assistance.
Dry fuels, a windy day and an ignition source could produce catastrophic conditions for many local communities. There are some factors homeowners cannot control when a wildfire starts, but as a homeowner you own the fuels on your property and by creating defensible space, you can change how fire behaves as it approaches your home. The lean, clean and green area you create today may be what saves your home should a wildfire threaten.
For more information on FACs and defensible space visit the Living With Fire Program website at www.LivingWithFire.info and join the conversation on Facebook.com/LivingWithFire. The Living With Fire Program is a collaborative effort of federal, state and local firefighting agencies and is managed by University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.
Lean, Clean and Green Area Tips
An important component of your defensible space is the Lean, Clean and Green Area. This is the area within 30 feet of our house, and is typically considered the residential landscape. This area often has irrigation, contains ornamental plants and is routinely maintained. For an effective Lean, Clean and Green area:
- Remove most or all flammable wildland plants, including big sagebrush, bitterbrush, rabbitbrush, cheatgrass, pinyon, juniper and manzanita. If you wish to retain a few of these as specimen plants, make sure they are free of dead wood and leaves, pruned to reduce the amount of fuel and separated from adjacent brush fields.
- Select less flammable plants for the home landscape. Some rules of thumb in selecting landscape plants for the Lean, Clean and Green Area are:
- Shorter plants, less than 2-feet tall, are better choices than taller plants.
- Green, herbaceous plants such as grass and non-woody flowers are better choices than shrubs and trees.
- Deciduous shrubs and trees are better choices than evergreen types. Avoid planting juniper, mugo pine and arborvitae.
- Use hard surfaces, such as concrete, asphalt and brick in this area. Within 30 feet of the house, do not use wood mulches in a widespread manner, and do not use rubber mulches.
- Clear all flammable vegetation from within 10 feet of the propane tank.
- Remove tree limbs that are within 10 feet of the chimney, touching the house or deck, within 6 feet of the roof or encroaching on power lines.
- Create a noncombustible area at least 5-feet wide around the base of the house. Emphasize the use of irrigated herbaceous plants, such as lawn, ground covers and flowers combined with rock mulches and hard surfaces.