Since 1923, the Governor General has proclaimed the week of October 9th as Fire Prevention Week. This week gives us a chance to proactively reduce our risks and lessen the impact of wildfires in our communities.
This year we are focusing on the FireSmart program, and some of the things you can do to reduce risks from wildfires. Wildfires have risks which can be easily dismissed when things are going well, but those same risks will catch us off guard when we do not prepare. FireSmart offers rural residents, farms and ranches specific tools and recommendations to reduce those risks. These proven practices minimize the chance of wildfires starting, and spreading into our homes, yards, and communities. Rural living, especially in remote regions like the Special Areas, means accepting some inherent risks, including grassfires. Are you protected? One approach is ensuring your assets are adequately insured, and to trust insurance will cover any damages or costs. A more active approach is to take a closer look at our homes, farms and ranches to help understand and mitigate hazards. FireSmart is a program which understands we can’t always prevent fires; however, it can help us live with and manage the risks they pose.
FireSmart helps minimize the risks wildfires pose by increasing wildfire resistance and applying fire prevention concepts. FireSmart looks at two components when assessing fire probability: structure assessment and site assessment. The structural assessment is based on buildings, their materials and their corresponding resistance to heat and flame. For example, a structure built out of cement or brick, with metal roofing would provide significant resistance to a wildfire. A structure constructed out of wood with limited metal or cement materials and asphalt shingles would provide much less resistance to wildfire. The site assessment portion looks at location. For example, a farm site built on a slope, or adjacent to wooded areas, would present a higher risk of being impacted by a wildfire. A farm site built on flat ground surrounded by cultivated land would likely present a lower risk of being impacted. Beyond the characteristics of a site itself, other factors considered in the site assessment include distance to fire services and ease of access to the site.
A FireSmart assessment is the best way to help you prioritize what you need to do to reduce wildfire risks. When doing a FireSmart site assessment, all structures are assessed, from grain bins and cattle sheds to houses and shops. FireSmart priority zones outline four zones that surround structures and highlight the different levels of fire control activities recommended for each area.
The most critical of these zones is Zone 1a, the area directly around your structure. This zone extends 1.5 meters (5 feet) and is considered a non-combustible zone. A defensible space which doesn’t support a fire, this zone should help reduce the chance of wind-blown embers igniting materials near (or on) your structure. Ideally, this area should be free of all vegetation: dirt, rocks, brick, cement, etc. Avoid wood chips or mulch, don’t stack firewood or store flammable materials like oil, and keep waste from accumulating. Any burnable materials in this zone will give fire a clear path to impinge onto your structure.
Zone 1, which extends 1.5 to 10 meters (5 to 30 feet) is also considered to be a defensible zone. In this zone, identify materials that could transmit fire to your structure, including fences, decks, trees, shrubs and landscaping. Think about the types and locations of trees and limit conifer trees and junipers as they will combust more readily. Keep branches trimmed away from roofs and trim them a meter from the ground to limit the risk of fire travelling onto your structure. If you have a wooden fence connected to your structure, consider placing a metal gate between your structure and the fence. This will create a break to reduce the risk of fire tracking from the fence to your structure. Keep BBQs away from vinyl siding and overhanging eaves, regularly clean eavestroughs to limit burnable materials, ensure fireplaces/woodstoves have intact spark arrestors, and remove burnable materials from under decking.
Zone 2 extends 10 to 30 meters (30 to 90 feet), and Zone 3 extends 30 to 100 meters (90 to 300 feet) from your structure. These two zones help identify how to reduce potential wildfire fuel and limit risk of wildfires travelling through these zones towards your structure. We cannot eliminate fires but using FireSmart to help analyze and mitigate risks on your property can limit and manage its impacts. If you would like more information on the FireSmart program, or to request a free FireSmart Assessment for your property or operation, please contact us. You can reach Special Areas Fire Services at (403) 779-3733, through your local district office or fire department.
In closing, I want to take a moment to recognize the good work being done throughout our community to reduce fire risks. Fire services are seeing great examples of simple preventative measures, from having water trucks on site when haying to getting neighbours connected on a single text group to fan out messages in case of a grassfire.
For this year’s Fire Prevention photo, I want to commend Mr. Grant Veno for his well-maintained fire guard. As you can see, he has ensured it is anchored to an access road and extends around his yard site. Job well done!
As always, remember to “Check your smoke detector, CO detector and have a 72-hour emergency kit”.
Take Care, Keep Safe, and Yours in Fire Prevention,
Special Areas Fire Chief