JoAnne Skelly: Improve your odds — prepare for wildfire

May is Nevada Wildfire Awareness Month. Each year, the Bureau of Land Management, Nevada Division of Forestry, U.S. Forest Service, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, other program partners and corporate sponsors work together to educate Nevadans on living with wildfire. Much of western Nevada is a high fire hazard environment, especially in this drought year.

Actions we take at our home or in our community to reduce the wildfire threat and prepare for the next wildfire can help increase the odds of survival. Ed Smith, natural resource specialist with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension says, “Implementing pre-fire activities such as creating defensible space and replacing wood roofs improve the likelihood of home survival during wildfire. Be proactive and take action now.”

A fire-adapted community is a community that can survive a wildfire with little or no assistance from firefighters who are often stretched to capacity during a fire event. Survival is possible because of appropriate building construction, proper vegetation management, thoughtful community planning and a prepared fire service and citizenry. Given Nevada’s history of intense wildland-urban interface fires, becoming a fire-adapted community is a wise goal for many residents.

Residential landscapes should have a noncombustible area within five feet of the house consisting of materials such as gravel, rock or concrete and vegetation such as lawn and herbaceous flowers with a high moisture content during fire season. A well-maintained area of at least 30 feet from the house that consists primarily of materials that are noncombustible, or that have low combustibility and/or low fuel volume such as lawn, flowers and low-growing shrubs. Wood and bark mulches would not be used in a widespread manner in this area. It should be free of dead vegetation or plants that lead a fire from the ground into the trees. Within this 30-foot zone, we need to avoid junipers, Scotch broom, evergreen or native plants or use them very sparingly, because these plants can ignite easily.

Remember, it is not a matter of “if” a wildfire is going to occur, but “when.” Unfortunately, many residents and their homes are not prepared to survive wildfire. Research proves that house survival during wildfire is not random, miraculous or dumb luck. Rather it is the features of the house, the adjacent vegetation and fuels and routine maintenance that often determine which homes burn and which survive.

For more information about how to prepare your home and community for wildfire or to view a calendar of events, visit

JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and may be reached at or 887-2252.


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