Clear Creek family invests in fire safety
May 26, 2005
Dan Wheeler built his own home out of Alaskan yellow cedar logs on six acres in Clear Creek Canyon. The licensed contractor, who also owns an Incline Village jewelry store, takes precautions to make sure his spacious home in the forest is safe from wildfire.
He and his wife, Beth, are members of the Nevada Fire Safe Council Clear Creek Chapter, along with 26 other homeowners.
Nevada Fire Safe Council grants require a match. Last year, the Clear Creek residents had to provide a 25 percent match on a $125,000 grant to build defensible space around their homes.
“Through the efforts of moving pine needles, dead trees and dead brush we’re able to meet the goals to uphold the matching funds of the grant,” Wheeler said.
Property owners keep track of how much time and money they spend on dump fees and renting equipment, and the grant total is used as matching funds. Defensible space is created around the homes so firefighters have an area where they can defend the houses.
Standing outside his log home, diligently guarded by two large Newfoundlands named Colton and Granite, Wheeler pointed into the distance at a scrubby ridge.
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“Two years ago, one fire dropped into Clear Creek Canyon at that ridge,” he said. “It was about three-eighths of a mile away.”
Just below his driveway and across the road is a 120-foot firebreak cleared for three-fourths of a mile last summer by a contractor hired by the Fire Safe Council as a part of the grant. The firebreak is a slight incline with brush mowed down by a Brush Hog to a few inches.
The Wheelers’ front lawn was designed around the principles of fire safety and environmental stewardship. He still has yellow-flowering bitterbrush spaced out about every 10 feet – even though it can throw flames several hundred feet – because that’s what mule deer eat.
“We live in an area of mule deer and bear habitat. This is their wintering area so we try to leave as much winter feed as possible.”
Wheeler cleans out the “ladder fuels,” pine needles, leaves, twigs and smaller plants that help flames spread upward.
“Our wind predominately comes from the southwest. So our concern was to thin out as much as possible on the uphill slopes.”
Fire travels fastest uphill, and many of the homes in this area are on promontories. Wheeler, 53, put a gravel road around the house so firefighters can drive an engine to the back. He also has spread decomposed granite soil around the home.
As a former 12-year member of the Washoe County Fire Commission, Wheeler appreciates those who fight fires, and that they’ll try hard to protect a home.
“We moved into the forest area so it’s important to do defensible space around the house.”
As members of the Fire Safe Council, the Wheelers also attend training classes.
The Wheelers’ 3,000-square-foot home is topped with a 40-year composition roof and surrounded by a fire-resistant grass, that is also feed for deer.
“You have to look at the whole ecosystem. You can’t just strip the land bare.”
n Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1212.
Defensible space: A system at least 30 feet around homes used by firefighters to protect the home.
Firebreak: A nonflammable barrier used to slow or stop fires. Several types of firebreaks: mineral soil barriers, slow-burn vegetation barriers or mechanically cleared areas.
Ladder fuels: Provides vertical continuity between vegetation, thereby allowing fire to carry from surface fuels into the crowns of trees or shrubs with relative ease.
Decomposed granite: or DG, as it is sometimes known, resembles shale, but is harder and less water absorbent. Small flakes of it accumulate from the erosion of hard granite rock.
Composition roof: Often Class A fire rated, a roof made of asphalt shingles, asbestos shingles or tarpaper roofing, or the usual forms of roofing materials.