Spread this like wildfire

Ed Smith is a natural resource specialist with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and the manager of the Living With Fire program. He can be reached at smithe@unce.unr.edu or at www.facebook.com/LivingWithFire.

For many, evidence of the Caughlin Fire is a daily reminder of the threat wildfire poses to the Reno area. Strong winds, burning embers, an abundance of dried leaves, needles and grass, inadequate defensible space and houses built from easily ignited materials played a huge role in the loss of homes during the Caughlin Fire. A question that springs from that event is, what will we do differently between now and the next wildfire?

Last year, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, local, state and federal firefighting agencies, and the Nevada Fire Safe Council introduced the concept of Fire Adapted Communities (FACs) to several Washoe County neighborhoods at risk from wildfire. FACs are communities located in wildfire-prone areas that can survive wildfire with little or no assistance from firefighters. The FAC concept is a departure from traditional thinking about responding to wildfires. Historically, we responded by protecting communities with firefighters and equipment. In FACs the emphasis changes from “protection of communities” to “preparation of communities” and shifts the responsibility for dealing with the wildfire threat from solely the fire department to the community as a whole.

There are some disturbing projections from the nation’s wildfire experts:

• Fire seasons will become longer, more intense, and wildfires will be more difficult to control.

• The number of people living in or adjacent to high fire-hazard areas will increase.

• Our firefighting resources will not keep pace with the increased wildfire threat.

They concluded that the economic, environmental and societal costs of wildfire will dramatically increase in the future and identified FACs as a key component to minimizing impacts.

In 2012, Living With Fire will focus on incorporating the FAC recommendations into community design and maintenance, and taking communities to the next step.

CWPP planning assists communities in establishing priorities for protecting life, property and infrastructure. The plans can take a variety of forms, but at a minimum must:

1. Be collaboratively developed

2. Identify and prioritize areas and methods for hazardous fuel-reduction treatments

3. Recommend measures to reduce structure ignitability throughout the community

The Living With Fire program and its partners are currently preparing a Washoe County Community-Level guide to assist communities into and through the process.

Residents need to begin asking questions like “what is the wildfire threat to my community?” and “how do I prepare for wildfire?” By reading educational materials at www.LivingWithFire.info, taking steps to become a FAC and by starting the wildfire protection process, Reno residents can prepare themselves.