Wildfires Happen. Is your community prepared?

I awoke to the smell of thick campfire-like smoke that had filtered into my bedroom. I jumped out of bed, flipped the bedroom light switch and… nothing. The electricity was out. I ran to the window to see the glow of flames cresting the hill on the other side of McCarran Boulevard. Since the wind was blowing and the fire was close and spreading, I made the decision to evacuate. Outside, the sky was orange from the wildfire and the street was congested with fire engines and vehicles of evacuating residents. Fortunately, I was able to navigate the chaos safely with my laptop in one hand and some clothes in the other. I’m lucky that my residence and I were unscathed from the wildfire. In the early morning hours of Nov. 18, 2011, this was my experience during the Caughlin Fire. At that time, I was not prepared for wildfire and have since learned my lesson. Wildfires are not decreasing, and in fact are forecasted to burn more frequently and more intensely in the future.

Residents, like myself, can prepare their homes and communities to reduce the wildfire threat. May is Nevada Wildfire Awareness Month and this year’s theme is, “Wildfires Happen. Is your community prepared?” Below are a few examples of how you can prepare your home and community for wildfire:

fire on mountain
Wildfires such as the 2011 Caughlin Fire are forecasted to burn more frequently and more intensely in the future. Photo by Alex Hoon, National Weather Service.
  • Consider replacing wood-shake or shingle roofs with a Class-A Fire-Resistant type roof such as composition, metal or tile.
  • Keep the first five feet around your home free of combustible materials such as wood, mulch, dried leaves, pine needles and flammable shrubs such as sagebrush and junipers. Instead, plant flowers, succulents, lawn or groundcover, or use rock, concrete, brick or pavers.  
  • Designate a “Safe Area” in your community where people can go to wait out the wildfire. Examples include ball fields, irrigated pastures, parks and parking lots.
  • Pack a Go Bag that is easily accessible and filled with items necessary to help you quickly and safely evacuate your home.
  • Ensure that your home’s address is readily visible by using reflective, non-combustible material with characters at least four inches high.

During Nevada Wildfire Awareness Month, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension’s Living With Fire Program is hosting several events to help you and your community prepare for wildfire. Today are the Junk the Junipers events where homeowners can drop off their woody vegetation for free at two locations in Washoe County. The event runs from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. For more information, visit: http://www.livingwithfire.info/events/junk-the-junipers-silverlake or http://www.livingwithfire.info/events/junk-the-junipers-washoe-valley.

To learn more about wildfire preparedness during Nevada Wildfire Awareness Month, attend our other two events. Ask your wildfire-related questions to the Nevada Fire Board and enjoy a FREE lunch at the Nevada Fire Board Meeting and Public Q & A Session on May 17. Learn more and register for the event at NFBOD.eventbrite.com.

Bring the family to the May 18 Reno Aces vs. Tacoma Rainers game and have fun while learning to prepare for wildfire. Learn more at http://www.livingwithfire.info/events/reno-aces-vs-tacoma-rainers.

Small steps can make a big difference in preparing your home and community for wildfire. Proactive communities have a key role in minimizing wildfire impact by taking steps now to prepare. Learn from my experience during the Caughlin Fire and prepare now.Jamie Roice-Gomes is the manager of University of Nevada Cooperative Extension’s Living With Fire Program. For more information, visit www.LivingWithFire.info or call 775-336-0261. 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.