BY BILL PHILLIPS
Yeah, we know it’s a drag, but you really should clean out your gutters.
You could be saving your house.
Those leaves that gather in your gutter are just what an ember from a nearby wildfire need to ignite your home.
The BC FireSmart Committee is calling on all British Columbia residents and communities to prepare for the upcoming wildfire season by mitigating wildfire risks where they live. It’s also urging neighbours to join forces and help their entire community become a FireSmart Recognized Community, through Firesmart Canada.
There are many, many things a homeowner can do to minimize the chances of your house catching fire should a wildfire get close.
“One of the easy ones is making sure your gutters are clean,” says Forrest Tower with the BC Wildfire Service in Prince George. “Make sure there is no vegetation right up against your house. The most important part of FireSmart is to think of your house as the centre of a circle. There are priority zones in larger circles as you get away from your house.”
Priority zone 1A is within one metre of your house. There shouldn’t be any flammable material stored within that zone … no stacking firewood against the house or shrubberies that grow up the side of the house.
“The risk to your house is not really from the flames, it’s actually from the embers,” says Tower.
Embers get carried on the wind and will ignite that pile scraps under your deck, that pile of leaves tucked away in a corner, or in your eaves.
Even things such as cedar mulch is a risk, if it’s located too close to your house. Another issue can be wooden fences that come right up to the house. Tower doesn’t suggest replacing the entire fence, but changing the post adjacent to the house to a steel post can make the difference.
Wooden decks can be a problem, however, most deck wood is pressure-treated which is fire resistant.
Even the type of trees you plant around our house can make a difference with deciduous tree being better than conifers. However, that first one-metre zone is crucial.
The second zone is everything within 10 metres of your house. This is where landscaping can make a difference. Selecting fire-resistant plants and materials can increase the likelihood of your home surviving a wildfire. This zone is also a no-no for that stack of firewood. If you can’t move your firewood farther away, it should be stored in a shed, which has also been given the FireSmart treatment.
Zone 2 is everything between 10 and 30 metres from your house. Within 30 metres of your home, selectively remove evergreen trees to create at least three metres of horizontal space between the single or grouped tree crowns and remove all branches to a height of two metres from the ground.
Zone 3 is the space from 30 metres to 100 metres from your house. Firesmart says you can change the dynamics of a wildfire by managing vegetation within this zone. Look for opportunities to create a fire break by creating space between trees and potentially flammable vegetation.
Zone 3 probably won’t apply to most people living in a city subdivision, but Tower says don’t be complacent just because you live in town. With the exception of the downtown core, most city subdivisions back onto greenbelt areas.
“There definitely is risk, living in a place like this,” he says, pointing to Fort McMurray as an example of a large community where a wildfire can take hold. “They did a pretty significant study in Fort McMurray and what they found was in almost all cases where houses were paired, one survived and one was burned down, the one that survived was what we would consider a FireSmart property. If you do FireSmart your house you have a 90 per cent chance of surviving a wildfire.”
So when you’re doing your spring cleaning, use some common sense and think about what you can do to FireSmart your home.
“We’re just trying to get people thinking of these things before fire season starts,” says Tower. “There are some things you can do … We’re trying to move to the idea of shared responsibility.”
There is lots of information on the website firesmart.ca. You can even get an assessment of house FireSmart your house by answering a few questions.
The BC FireSmart Committee was initiated by the BC Wildfire Service in May 2017 to provide greater direction for wildfire prevention activities and better integration of the seven FireSmart disciplines throughout the province — based on the FireSmart Canada model.
Members of the committee include the BC Wildfire Service, the Office of the Fire Commissioner, the Union of B.C. Municipalities, the Fire Chiefs’ Association of B.C., Emergency Management BC, the Forest Enhancement Society of B.C. and the First Nations’ Emergency Services Society of B.C.
FireSmart BC’s new website contains lots of practical information about the program and how individuals and communities can get started, including: