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Wildfires and Living in the Wildland Urban Interface

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Caughlin Fire

Living among the foothills in Reno is known as living in the Wildland Urban Interface or WUI. Reno weather often brings high winds, low humidity, and hot temperatures during summer months however recent years have shown that fire danger can exist all year round.

While lightning strikes account for many wildfires in our region most fires are caused by people. In an effort to reduce the number of wildland fires, below are some common ways fires are started.

Causes of Wildfires


Fireworks are illegal in Reno and Washoe County but still account for many fires every summer. Possession or use of fireworks can result in misdemeanor charges, fines and up to six months in jail. If caught offenders may be held responsible for the cost of fighting the fire as well as any property damage.  Anyone wishing to dispose of fireworks can contact the Division of Fire Prevention at 775-334-2300 to have them picked up, or may drop them off at any fire station.

Shooting Safety

Every year fires are started due to illegal target shooting.  Target shooting is allowed only in designated shooting ranges and shooting within the City limits of Reno is illegal. Target shooting is prohibited on our region’s federal lands due to the high fire danger. The use of exploding targets or tracer rounds in the city of Reno, Sparks, and federal lands are prohibited. 

Equipment Use

Practice vehicle safety. Vehicles and power machinery can cause wildfires from overheated equipment, exhaust particles, fuel leaks and friction from motor parts. Don’t drive over dried brush and grass. Make sure engines are maintained to avoid equipment failure that would produce extensive heat or sparks. Maintain proper tire pressure to avoid blowouts and make sure brake pads are not worn out as friction from metal-to-metal contact may create sparks. Practice safe towing. Use appropriate safety pins and hitch ball to secure chains so they don’t drag.


The National Fire Protection Association reports that smoking materials started 47% of the brush or grass fires. Flicking a cigarette butt on the ground, or out of a moving car, can easily catch the dry vegetation on fire.

Grill Safety

An outdoor grill in a bad location can easily cause a fire and damage or destroy your property, or threaten loved ones. It is recommended to have at least 10 feet of space between the grill and the house or trees and vegetation.

Be sure to pour water over coals or ash before disposing of them to make sure the fire is out.  Always check your grill before starting it to make sure the connection between the propane tank and fuel line are clear with nothing flammable on the burners. If your grill flares up, close the lid. This will cut oxygen to the fire and help extinguish it.


Only build a campfire in designated campgrounds or use authorized fire pits away from any dry vegetation, trees, bushes or ground cover that could catch fire. Never leave a fire unattended or allow it to get out of control and be sure to have water or something near by you can put it out with. Always put the fire out before leaving by pouring water over and throughout the fire area, then spreading dirt on top to ensure that there are no hot embers left behind.

Power lines

Loose tree limbs, Mylar balloons, flying debris, even squirrels can cause a spark if they make contact with a power line. Do not release balloons outside and keep loose items tied down. Our strong winds can cause power lines to come together, creating sparks and a hot metal globule that can fall to the ground sparking a fire. Call NV Energy immediately if you see any potential hazards that may come in contact with the line or damage to the power poles or insulators.

Arson and Children Playing with Fire

Wildland arsons account for 20% of brush fires that have been set intentionally.  Most arsons happen during the daytime and are set for many reasons, including vandalism, crime concealment, extremism, profit, excitement or revenge. A wildland arsonist typically looks for opportunity such as areas with dead and dying brush, trash or abandoned furniture. If you see someone leaving the scene of a fire, capture as much information about the subject and immediately pass it on to law enforcement or a fire official.

Children under 12 playing with fire, usually out of curiosity, is the main cause. These cases usually involve more than one child and occur around residences, schools, playgrounds and makeshift campsites. Always supervise your children and keep make sure they do not have access to matches or lighters.

Spontaneous Ignition

Examples of materials that are prone to spontaneous combustion are oily rags, hay and other agricultural products.

To safely dispose of oils and oily rags, preferably use a metal can or container with a tight fitting lid. Place dirty and used rags inside and fill the rest of the container with a mixture of water and soap, seal the top shut and do not open it. This will prevent the oils from oxidizing, and keep the rags from heating up and igniting.  Another alternative for oily rags is to spread them out individually on a concrete slab away from any combustibles and let them dry. Once fully dried, the rag will become hard and brittle, about 24 hours in our climate depending on heat and humidity, and will no longer be in danger of spontaneous ignition.  It can then be disposed of with regular trash.

For information on how to dispose of hazardous materials, visit the Keep Truckee Meadows Beautiful website.

Protecting your Home

Questions often arise from residents about such things as "What is considered defensible space?" or  "What plants are good to plant near my home that don't constitute a fire hazard?" The Nevada Cooperative Extension has a website that can assist homeowners with these questions. Visit the Living with Fire website for more information.

Defensible Space

Living in Nevada means learning to live in an environment that burns.  As our community moves closer and closer to the wildland urban interface - the area where the "city" meets open land - there are practical and specific steps you can take to protect your home from wildfires.

FACT: Homes with adequate defensible space are more likely to survive a wildland fire than homes without it.

What is Defensible Space?

 Defensible Space is the area around your home where the vegetation has been modified to reduce the fire threat. The size of a home's defensible space varies, depending upon property size, location, and topography. Sometimes, a defensible space is simply a homeowner's properly maintained backyard. Yet other property owners might need to provide over 200 feet of defensible space around their property. To calculate an effective defensible space for your home, go to Click on "before the fire" and then go to the "defensible space" section. Please explore this website. It will give you great information on many aspects of how to protect your home from wildland fire. 

Why create Defensible Space around your home?

The purpose of defensible space is two-fold. A properly designed defensible space can provide our firefighters with a safe place from which to defend your home from an approaching wildland fire. At the same time, homes with adequate defensible space are more likely to survive a wildland fire, even without firefighter assistance. 

How to create Defensible Space

The Reno Fire Department would like to encourage you to create a defensible space around your home. You can do this by implementing the three "R's" into your landscaping design:

  • Removal
  • Reduction
  • Replacement

Remove dead or flammable vegetation. Reduce vegetation by pruning or mowing. Providing space between plants and trees removes the continuous fuel bed that might otherwise exist throughout your yard. The more continuous and dense the vegetation is in your yard, the greater the wildfire threat to your home. Replace flammable vegetation with less hazardous choices. Shorter plants are better than taller plants, and non-woody plants are better than evergreens or junipers.

Learn how to request permission to create defensible space on public property surrounding your home.

Make it easy for firefighters to get to your home

It is also important for the safety of our firefighters, should they respond to a wildland fire in your area, that your address is clearly posted and readily visible from the street, and that street signs are posted and unobstructed. Clear vegetation along both sides of your driveway and, if your driveway is longer than 150 feet, a turnaround suitable and large enough for fire equipment is required. 

Work together with your neighbors

As more and more of us move into what was formerly open space, it becomes increasingly important that we work together, as neighbors, to keep our homes, our subdivisions, and our communities safe. Ideally, we should all have appropriate defensible space around our homes. If you and your neighbors would like help organizing or making a plan, please do not hesitate to contact the Division of Fire Prevention at 775-334-2300.