JoAnne Skelly: Wildfire: Prepare, anticipate, evacuate

May is Wildfire Awareness Month. After an extremely wet winter, you might think that there will be less risk of wildfire this year. Sadly, that is unlikely to be the case. With all that moisture, plants/weeds, particularly the highly ignitable cheatgrass, are thriving and creating lots of fuels for fires to start when they start drying out as the weather heats up. Fire agencies are preparing for a big fire year.

This year’s theme is “Wildfire: Prepare, Anticipate, Evacuate.”

Prepare your home and community to survive wildfire.

Anticipate and plan for a safe evacuation.

Evacuate quickly when asked!

In addition to all the precautions you can take prior to a wildfire to prepare your home to reduce the risk of wildfire and to prepare your family for an evacuation, you can also make improvements to your landscape that can reduce ignition potential.

Over the winter many landscapes were hit hard with flood damage. Plants may have to be replaced. If that is the case, think about choosing plants that are less ignitable or less flammable. University of Nevada Cooperative Extension has an illustrated plant guide that can help called “Choosing the Right Plants for Northern Nevada’s High Fire Hazard Areas,”

Unfortunately, there are no “fireproof” plants, but there are less fire-prone plants that are harder to burn, don’t burn as hot or produce shorter flame lengths if they do ignite.

Plants that are wiser choices for our high fire hazard area have a high moisture content and a low-growing habit. These include herbaceous plants such as lawn, conservation grasses, some ground covers, annual and perennial flowers and bulbs.

Deciduous shrubs that are less than two feet in height are more appropriate within 30 feet of a structure in fire prone areas. Although trees are not low-growing, they are a desirable addition to any landscape. When selecting trees, choose deciduous ones because they usually have a higher moisture content than evergreen trees.

Another reason to avoid evergreen trees, such as pines and spruces, and shrubs, such as junipers, is that they contain flammable chemicals. Native plants such as sagebrush or rabbitbrush also contain flammable chemicals. While these chemicals give all these plants their strong fragrance, they also create an increased ignition risk.

Prepare your landscape for wildfire by choosing less flammable plants when you plant this spring or by replacing flammable plants.

For information, go to

JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor & Extension Educator, Emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at


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