Each year, wildfires blaze across the province, burning through thousands of acres of land. As they become a more frequent occurrence across the country, it’s important for Canadians to know what to do when faced with uncontrollable wildfires near their homes.
Alberta’s FireSmart program aims to give Albertans the knowledge to do so.
FireSmart is designed to help people implement preventive and mitigative measures to reduce the threat of wildfires to their communities and personal property.
The program provides a wide range of tips and guiding principles for individuals and families alike to make their property FireSmart.
Below are a few helpful program measures to reduce the risks of wildfires to your home.
Yard and landscaping
FireSmart breaks the yard down into three home ignition zones. The immediate zone is zero to 1.5 metres away from your home, the intermediate zone is 1.5 to 10 metres away and the extended zone is 10 to 30 metres away.
For starters, homeowners should ensure their yard features a 1.5-metre non-combustible surface along the outside of the house. This could be in the form of mineral soil, rock or concrete.
The immediate zone should also be free of any sort of dry debris, such as leaves or needles. The idea is to have zero flammable materials along the immediate perimeter of the structure.
Homeowners are also encouraged to make smart choices when it comes to vegetation management, especially in the immediate and intermediate zones. In particular, the program suggests that people consciously select fire-resistant plants to increase the odds of their home surviving a wildfire.
Fire-resistant plants typically have moist, supple leaves, accumulate minimal dead vegetation, and have a low amount of a water-like sap or resin.
It’s important to avoid highly flammable plants in the immediate and intermediate zones. These plants are defined as having aromatic leaves or needles leading to the accumulation of fine, dry, dead material. They contain resin or oils and have loose, papery or flaky bark.
Plants to avoid include cedar, pine and spruce trees, juniper bushes and tall grasses.
Lawns within 10 metres of a house should have grass no more than 10 centimetres in height. This will reduce the likelihood of your grass burning intensely.
Implementing the aforementioned FireSmart principles into your yard work can heavily reduce the risk of wildfire, with the measures within 10 metres of your home having the largest impact.
In the extended zone, thinning and pruning evergreen trees reduces fire hazard. Branches, needles and dry grass may accumulate in this zone, so make sure to regularly tidy up this debris to remove potential surface fuels.
Protecting your home
The FireSmart Begins at Home Guide lists a number of proactive home improvement measures one can take to reduce the risk of their home being set ablaze.
People are encouraged to remove any combustible material from atop or underneath their decks. This may include leaves, pine needles, dead plants and other forms of debris, which can act as kindling for an approaching wildfire. This could also mean patio furniture, toys and decorations.
Cleaning the gutters and rooftop of leaves and debris is also a vital part of ensuring your home’s safety.
Homeowners can consider making a few home improvements to decrease wildfire risks. Embers can blow up to two kilometres ahead of a wildfire, so it’s important to take measures with this in mind to keep them out of your living space.
FireSmart recommends adding non-combustible three-millimetre screens to external vents, excluding dryer vents, to keep embers out. Doors leading into your home should be fire-rated and have a good seal, and single-pane windows should be replaced with more fire-resistant tempered or thermal windows.
Roofs and siding should be made of materials that offer fire resistance. Metal, asphalt, clay and composite rubber tiles offer superior fire resistance to untreated wood. Stucco, metal, brick, concrete or fibre cement siding are recommended over untreated wood or vinyl siding, which offers little fire protection.
The guide also recommends giving other structures on your property, such as sheds and outbuildings, the same considerations that you do with your living space to best prepare your property.
Lastly, if you don’t have one already, have an evacuation plan in place.
The measures noted above are intended to limit the risks of wildfires; however, they are not foolproof. In the event that a wildfire is closing in on your home, it is important to have a plan to ensure your safety and the safety of your loved ones.
To learn more about Alberta’s FireSmart program, or to download the FireSmart Begins at Home Guide, visit firesmartalberta.ca. General inquiries about the program can be directed to email@example.com.