The FireSmart BC program is very much in the news after this year’s wildfire season, particularly after the community of Logan Lake — which was in imminent danger due to the Tremont Creek wildfire — emerged unscathed, thanks in large part to its early adoption of FireSmart principles.
“Because we’re not in a forested area, that can give people a false sense of security,” says Ashcroft interim fire chief Josh White. “Anyone who’s moved here since 2017 might think that. But we as a community need to start looking at a good FireSmart program.”
He adds that as we enter the fall, with fire season behind us, there are things property owners can do to get a jump on next year. He also wants to address the issue of water restrictions and their impact on keeping lawns green: an issue raised by many people, who felt that not being able to keep lawns lush due to water restrictions put properties at increased risk.
“Stage 4 water restrictions are to maintain reservoir levels so the fire department can fight a fire,” he explains. “Once we lose those levels it makes it much more challenging. In Stage 4 we ask people to please mitigate water use, because safety is the number one priority at that point.
“Structure protection was very much in the news, and what that set-up does is create a humidity bubble around homes. Yes, watering lawns does give some humidity to the area, but look at Kelowna. In 2003 fire destroyed nearly 200 homes, and you saw burnt-out shells of homes amidst green lawns. Watering lawns doesn’t protect your home from burning.”
He points out that structure protection equipment is put up as high as possible, to create a humidity bubble 25 or 30 feet off the ground. “Your typical lawn sprinkler is only a few feet above ground level. And you want to develop a humidity bubble six to eight hours before a fire, so you don’t leave water on for days.
“I can understand why people want their grass green, but that’s not going to prevent your home from burning. Green grass gives people a false sense of security.”
While White says he would encourage homeowners to look at individual structure protection, they should reach out to their local fire department about proper positioning of the equipment. “Also, by doing it in conjunction with the department you can install it with less damage. If you’re getting a kit, make sure to read the instructions and don’t be afraid to reach out to us.
“Getting that structure protection in place and having it ready to go in late spring/summer is a wonderful thing to be proactive on, but that should be the absolute last line of defence when it comes to protecting your home. We don’t want people relying on this type of protection; we want people to be more proactive in removing fuels. You should be identifying things like woodpiles and bark mulch first, structure protection last.”
White says that when homeowners are looking at making their properties more FireSmart, they should start at the house and work out in zones. “In the first three metres, you want to remove bark mulch, move your woodpile, and look at where your fence meets your house. Wrap the last fence post in steel so fire doesn’t migrate along the fence to your house.
“Five to 10 metres away, remove dry fuels and look at your trees. Branches should be trimmed back and pine needles should be cleared. A lot of cedar trees got ‘sun-kissed’ this summer, meaning burns will be more intense. And cedar trees are like a gasoline strip. We have a lot of history of that on the Mesa. Cedars are not meant to be in the Ashcroft area. They’re a coastal bush, and the last time I looked we’re not at the coast, we’re in the middle of a desert.”
While he’s not saying that everyone with a cedar hedge needs to rip it out, White advises people to maintain them properly. “Leaf blow them out every spring and fall, to make sure the dead stuff is out of them. Once you get past the green exterior you see the fuel, and the worst thing is seeing them growing under the eaves of buildings. The more fuels you can remove the better.”
Anyone who backs onto interface, such as Crown land, should use a weedbeater to take down tall grasses beyond their yard. And White implores people not to dump yard waste in gullies or over property lines or fences. “Even lawn clippings are a fuel load, and they can be a fire-starter with spontaneous combustion.”
Other tips for FireSmarting your property include cleaning dry, dead leaves and pine needles out of gutters, and putting screening over your attic venting, to prevent embers from getting inside. Replacing old trees, or planting new ones? “Look at how much water it uses,” says White. “If you’re buying a deciduous tree, make sure it’s not an invasive species. Manchurian elms are being seen around town, and they’re very invasive, with dry, brittle wood that’s a huge fuel load.”
White would like to see 2022 as the year of FireSmart. “I hope everyone steps up and bands together to make it the best we can to mitigate these risks. I don’t want there to be another Lytton.”