Wildfires – How to Protect Your Home
People have always lived with the threat of fire – urban fires, wildfires, and interface fires. Urban fires cause thousands of fatalities and billions of dollars of property damage each year. Wildfires destroy forests, but result in few fatalities. Fires between urban and wild areas, known as interface fires, are an emerging risk as more people live on the fringe of urban centres, away from established urban fire protection.
Wildfires are uncontrolled flames in woodlands, brush, or open fields. Lightning and people cause most of these fires. Wildfires increase in intensity when it is dry and winds are strong. There is higher probability of wildfires during a drought. Fires diminish and burn out naturally when confronted by rainfall, favourable winds, healthy vegetation and/or firebreaks (where there is little fuel to burn).
Wildfires are often seen as a threat that needs to be confronted urgently, but they are part of the natural cycle of renewal.
Well-intentioned programs to suppress wildfires have significantly changed our forests. Appropriate fire management is a challenging responsibility with conflicting priorities.
Interface fires are a growing hazard. More people are now living on the fringe of urban centres, beyond the reach of urban fire protection systems. Their buildings are vulnerable to most of the fire threats found in urban centres, as well as to the threat of wildfires. Interface fire risks are increasingly being integrated into wild fire risk management programs. Public education is also critical in persuading property owners to assume greater responsibility for this risk. Fires can occur at any time of year. Some simple steps will improve your home’s resistance to fires of any kind.
The Home Itself
- Install and maintain smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors.
- Have a fire extinguisher on each level of your home.
- Cover attic and sub-floor vents with noncombustible screening (mesh size no greater than 50 mm.
- Your roof is the most vulnerable part of your home because it can catch fire from wind-blown sparks. If you are building a new home or re-roofing your existing house, use roof covering material with a Class A fire-resistive rating.
- Limit the size and number of windows that face large areas of vegetation. The heat from a wildfire can ignite the furnishings inside your home through these windows.
- Install tempered glass or multi-layered glazed panels in exterior walls, glass doors and sky-lights. Or install solid exterior shutters.
Outside Your Home
Create a zone of non-combustible material around your house that will slow down a fire and possibly direct it around your home. To do this, you must view your yard as a fuel source. Fire will only burn if fuel is present. Fuel can include your landscaping, woodpiles, decks, etc.
To create your survivable space, take the following steps within 10 m of your home (in heavily treed areas 15 m; 30 m if your home is on a hillside).
- Remove all dry grass, brush, leaves and dead or dying trees from within at least 30 m of your home.
- Plant native, fire-resistant vegetation whenever possible.
- Space trees and shrubs at least 3 m apart.
- Reduce the number of trees in heavily wooded areas.
- For trees taller than 5 m, prune lower branches within 2 m of the ground to keep ground fires from spreading into treetops. Shrubs planted under trees should be no more than 45 cm high.
- Remove dead branches overhanging your roof, and all branches within 3 m of chimneys.
- Enclose the underside of balconies and above-ground decks with fire-resistant or noncombustible materials.
- Cover chimneys serving fireplaces with noncombustible screening with a mesh size no greater than 50 mm.
- Store firewood at least 15 m from any structure.
- Clearly mark emergency water sources and maintain easy access to them.
- Maintain an insulated emergency water supply within 300 metres of your home.
Check with Mission Fire/Rescue Service to learn what standards you must meet.
- Mow your lawn regularly and dispose promptly of cuttings and debris.
- Clear your roof, gutters and eaves of debris.
- Do not connect wooden fencing directly to your home.
- Make sure that the street number of your house is clearly visible from the road.
Download the Home Owners FireSmart Manual published by the Province of BC Wildfire Management Branch for further information.
If you live in a forested area, you need to be ready – get prepared. By planning fire protection we share the responsibility of saving life and property!