John Salewski from BC Wildfire Service gives a presentation on FireSmarting your home March 12 at the Royal Canadian Legion. Lindsay Chung photo

Little things can make a big difference in reducing wildfire hazards

Quesnel homeowners learn about FireSmarting their properties ahead of fire season

There are many things homeowners can do to reduce the potential impacts of wildfire, and now is the time to do them.

That was the message John Salewski of BC Wildfire Service delivered during a FireSmart presentation March 12 at the Royal Canadian Legion.

“It’s pretty amazing the little things we can do as homeowners to bring the hazard down,” said Salewski.

One big piece of advice Salewski had is to get your insurance up to date before the fire season starts because houses close to a fire can’t get insurance.

“Make sure your insurance renewal is more a December to April thing than an August thing because if you’re trying to renew in August, and there happens to be a small fire, you won’t,” he said. “You can’t even get comprehensive insurance on your car if your vehicle insurance runs out and you live beside a wildfire. That one came up last year.”

According to FireSmart, changes within 10 metres of your home, including the removal of combustible surface material, will have the biggest impact on reducing wildfire hazards.

Burning debris can be thrown up to two kilometres ahead of a wildfire, and sparks and embers can ignite materials on or near your home, causing severe damage.

Extreme heat can come from flames within 30 metres of your home, according to FireSmart. As wildfires spread towards homes, they ignite other flammable objects in their path. Breaks in this path, especially close to your home, can help reduce this threat.

According to FireSmart, a wildfire moving from the tops of trees can be slowed if the trees are spaced out. It can be further slowed by flame-resistant plants and shrubs in your yard.

“You don’t want conifer trees; you don’t want large clumps of conifers,” said Salewski. “Thin out the crowns so they aren’t touching. Prune your trees. If you can prune your trees to two metres without killing the tree, depending on how tall it is, that can really make a big difference so it doesn’t ladder up the trees. The crowns, that’s what is the real hazard.”

Salewski says well-drained lawns with green grass are the best protection, while you want to avoid needles and twigs on the ground, and you want to prune shrubs and branches around your forest to minimize the risk of the fire laddering up the trees.

“Creeping ground fire is going to stop once it hits your green grass,” he said. “That’s one of the things I noticed when we have structure protection, especially out at Nazko. We have green grass perfectly around all the homes because if we have enough time, we can put the pumps and sprinklers on, and we start flooding the yard. We can turn it into nice, green grass all around your house, and that’s going to stop the ground fire. So if the homeowner can remove the trees so there’s no crown fire, bring it to the ground, we can stop that. The sprinklers are going to stop that. So that’s really the key to homeowners helping themselves.”

In terms of landscaping and the vegetation around your home, Salewski encourages homeowners to use fire-resistant plants, which have moist, supple leaves; minimal accumulation of dead vegetation; water-like sap that produces little odour; and a low amount of sap or resin material.

“That bark mulch people have around their house is a very receptive fuel bed for the ember attack,” he said. “Avoid landscaping with highly flammable plants. You can make your yard look really pretty with fire-resistant plants.”

When it comes to the trees around your home, coniferous trees with needles are highly flammable, while deciduous leafy trees are less flammable.

“Deciduous within 30 metres is really good actually because when you have it on the outside, it actually catches the embers from the fires coming at you,” said Salewski. “It’s actually really handy, having a deciduous buffer around your house. And then it doesn’t burn so well, so the fire will drop to the ground, and it’s easier to suppress.”

Salewski says there are also many things you can do when it comes to home design.

Some of the things to consider are what type of roof you have, the exterior of your house, how fire-resistant your doors and windows are, and if your eaves are closed up and your vents are screened.

“Tin roofs I always think of as the gold star,” he said. “Double-pane [windows] are way better than single-pane. If you even shut your curtains too when you leave your home, that reflects the heat so it doesn’t break the glass in your home so easy when that fire comes through.”

Salewski says it’s also important to make sure your roof is clean.

“You’re not going to have a coniferous tree over top of your house, please,” he said. “Take it away. All the needles fall into your gutters, and that’s a fuel bed.”

He also wants homeowners to ensure the area underneath their balconies and decks are clear of debris and dead, dry needles or leaves.

Even small things like making sure there isn’t a broom leaning against your house or making sure you don’t have a wicker welcome mat can help.

Salewski says fire burns uphill, so if your house is at the top of a slope, concentrate on fire mitigation at the bottom of the slope.

Salewski encourages homeowners to have their own sprinkler systems. He recommends the WASP (Wildfire Automated Sprinkler Protection) system and says there are YouTube videos to help you learn where to put it. As well, he suggests clearly identifying your sprinklers.

“What they do is they put up a relative humidity (RH) bubble around your home, and it blocks that ember attack,” he said. “Nothing’s stopping that 200-foot flame attack, but when you have your house FireSmarted and you have that defensible space, that RH bubble, that will stop the ember attack.”

Salewski says it is also important to clearly mark where your water sources are on your property.

“If you have a pond or lake on your property, make sure that trail is clearly marked so when the fire departments come to set up the sprinklers, they know where to go,” he said. “Have a little map saying where this your water source is.”

One idea is to put a PVC tube capped on each end with all your information – a map to your water source, an inventory list and contact information for where you are going, for example – and put that at the end of your gate so the fire department knows what is there.

Another key is to make sure your driveway has easy access in and out.

Salewski recommends looking at the websites bcwildfire.ca and firesmartcanada.ca for more information and resources.

A program offered through the United Way provides free fire mitigation assessment and activities for seniors and people with low income, low mobility or mental health barriers. For more information, contact Steve Dodge at 250-255-4687 or steve@unitedwaytnc.ca.

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