Fire season recently got underway on the West Shore with a brush fire on April 21 that quickly became out of control and took multiple departments hours to extinguish.
While that fire did not damage any homes, it’s a good reminder of what can happen and did happen in Fort McMurray in 2016.
In an effort to help local fire departments spread the word about what homeowners can do to help, Black Press Media published a special section in this week’s edition of the Victoria News and Goldstream Gazette. The checklist below is complied with information from local fire departments as well as from the FireSmart guide, a publication sponsored by Parks Canada, Natural Resouces Canada and the Alberta government.
Here are some steps you can take to help protect your home and your family against wildfires.
Protect the roof over your head
The roof is the most vulnerable part of your home. Wooden shake roofs left untreated are the No. 1 cause of structure losses during wildfires. Embers can land on the roof and easily start a fire, spreading quickly to the rest of the home.
☐ When possible make sure your roof is made from fire-resistant materials such as metal, slate, tile, or asphalt shingles.
☐ Make sure all overhanging branches, needles, and other debris have been cleared from your roof and gutters.
Create priority zones
A priority zone is an area that will help keep flames away from your house while providing firefighters access. If you can, follow these tips to create a “fire smart” landscape at least 10 metres around your house to reduce the chance of a wildfire spreading onto your property and burning your home.
☐ Remove flammable vegetation within 10 metres of your home or use fire-resistant plants such as broad-leaf deciduous trees, low shrubs, ferns, or annuals.
☐ Where possible, shrubs and bushes or non fire-resistant plants should be spaced three metres apart.
☐ Remove any dead leaves, dry brush, twigs and needles from your roof and from around your house.
☐ Break the chain of fuel 10 to 30 metres around your home (a consistent line of fuel makes it easier for a fire to spread).
☐ Trim or remove trees (if bylaws permit) to reduce the chance of fire spreading from tree to tree.
☐ Prune trees so lowest branches are at least two metres above the ground.
☐ Remove stacks of wood and piles of debris from around your home and store them at a safe distance (10 to 30 metres away when possible).
Protect your exterior
During a wildfire, windows may break and allow the fire to travel into your home. If time allows, the most effective fire protection is achieved by covering openings to your home including vents, windows and other openings such as attic accesses with solid plywood shutters. Non-combustible siding also goes a long way in protecting your home from wildfires and it is important to be aware that overhanging decks will trap heat underneath, igniting the deck and siding. Materials stored under the deck can add to the problem.
☐ When possible, replace exertion finishes on your home with non-combustible materials such as stucco, metal, brick, or cement.
☐ Have pre-cut solid plywood shutters ready to fit over vents, windows, and other openings, and stored them in an accessible location.
☐ When possible, ensure your deck is built with non-flammable sheathing and has heavy support timbers.
☐ Remove all debris and combustible materials from under your deck.
☐ Ensure propane and natural gas tanks are located at least 10 metres from buildings and vegetation has been cleared within three metres of the tank.
☐ Ensure the skirting on your manufactured home (if applicable) has a non-combustible material finish such as stucco, metal, brick, or cement.
Firewood and waste burning
Careless burning inside and out has been the cause of many wildfires. Inside the home, burning wood in a fireplace can start a wildfire if sparks ignite your roof. If you must burn, do it safely.
☐ Removed all vegetation within three metres of your chimney.
☐ Make sure an approved spark arrester has been installed on your chimney.
☐ If you are permitted to have one, ensure your fire pit is located away from any structures and flammable vegetation.
When burning in your barrel (if permitted by local bylaws), ensure:
☐ Your barrel is in good condition.
☐ The ground is free of debris three metres or more around the barrel.
☐ You have steel rods or pipes holding the burning material up from the bottom of the barrel.
☐ A mesh screen (with openings no larger than seven millimetres) has been placed on top of the barrel.
☐ After burning, ensure you have placed the ashes in a metal container, soaked with water, and then let them sit for two to three days before disposing of.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there are many provincial restrictions in place to prevent burning that would typically be permitted at this time of year. If you have any questions about what fires are permitted, contact your local fire department.