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Tips to make your property "fire smart"

July 23rd, 2021  |  Home

Being “fire smart” begins at home.

Haunting images of the destruction left in the wake of a wildfire that recently tore through Lytton, B.C., should have all homeowners thinking about what steps they can take to reduce the potential impacts of a fire regardless of where they live.

The Lytton disaster followed an intense heat wave that shattered temperature records across Western Canada and jumpstarted one of the most destructive wildfire seasons in recent memory. The blaze levelled most of the community and killed two people.

Officials with the B.C. Wildfire Service have said it’s believed to be human-caused. The agency is still investigating what exactly sparked the fire.

Did you know that you – and your neighbours – can reduce your own fire hazards by following some preventative steps? FireSmartBC has a homeowner’s manual of recommendations about how you can give your property – be it a home or a cottage - a fighting chance.

Understanding fire spread

Fires need fuel to grow. That includes trees, twigs, woodpiles, dried grasses – and structures such as wood or vinyl siding or fences attached to homes. There are different ways it can spread including:

  1. Sparks and embers –They can ignite materials on or near your home, causing severe damage, and can be thrown up to two kilometres ahead of the fire!
  2. Radiant heat – Extreme heat can melt vinyl siding, ignite your home, and even break windows. It can come from flames within 30 metres of your home.
  3. Direct flame - As the blaze spreads, it ignites other flammable objects in its path.

Not surprisingly, changes made closest to your home – and the home itself – have the greatest potential of reducing the risk of damage. Consider these zones:

Zone 1: Home/Non-Combustible Zone: 0-1.5 metres

  1. Assess your roof – Roofs have areas in which debris and embers may collect. Clean it regularly of combustible materials such as leaves and branches. Consider fire-resistant or fire retardant roofing. Options include metal, asphalt, clay, and composite rubber tiles. Untreated wood shingles are dangerous.
  2. Install a spark arrestor on the chimney – This reduces the chance of sparks escaping and starting fires.
  3. Remove debris from gutters – Embers can easily ignite dry materials. Consider screening gutters with metal mesh to reduce the volume of debris that can accumulate.
  4. Assess eaves and vents - Consider screening vents with three-millimetre non-combustible wire mesh. Open eaves also create a surface that can be affected by embers and direct heat. Properly fitted soffits, fascia, blocking, and/or 3mm non-combustible screens help reduce the risk of embers and heat reaching the attic.
  5. Use fire-resistant siding - Stucco, metal siding, brick/concrete and fibre cement siding offer superior fire resistance. Logs and heavy timbers are reasonably effective. Untreated wood and vinyl siding offer little protection.
  6. Install fire-resistant windows - Tempered, thermal (double-paned) windows are recommended. Single-pane windows provide little resistance to heat from an advancing fire.
  7. Ensure doors are fire-rated and have proper seal – All the doors should be fire-rated, including garage doors.
  8. Clean under decks - Sheath the base of the decks, balconies, and houses with fire-resistant material to reduce the risk of sparks and embers igniting the home. Remove fuel that may accumulate underneath them.
  9. Separate fencing to be at least 1.5 metres from home - Wooden fences create a direct path from a fire to your home. Separating the house from a wooden fence with a metal gate can slow its advance. Remember to cut the grass along the fence line, since long, dry grass can ignite easily.
  10. Maintain the home’s exterior - Regular maintenance and cleaning of your home and yard (where needles and debris build up) will leave nothing for embers to ignite. Wood piled against a house is a major fire hazard. Move it to a safer location and clean up any such areas regularly.
  11. Don’t forget about outbuildings – Give sheds and other structures within 10 metres of your house the same treatment.

Zone 2/The Yard – 1.5 to 10 metres

A FireSmart yard means making good choices about plants, shrubs, grass, and mulch. Gravel mulch and decorative crushed rock mulch significantly reduce the risk of wildfire. Select fire-resistant plants and materials.

Zone 3/Landscaping within 10 metres

Plant low-growing, well-spaced, fire-resistant plants, and shrubs. Keep a 1.5-metre, non-combustible zone around your entire home and any attachments. It’s a surface of soil, rock, or stone, with no plants, debris, or combustible materials.

Coniferous trees with needles are highly flammable. Plant deciduous (leafy) trees instead. Older deciduous trees, however, can have rot and damage that makes them susceptible to fire. An arborist can help you assess the condition of mature trees.

Power lines should be clear of branches and other vegetation. Contact your local utility company to discuss removing any branches or vegetation around overhead wires.

A mowed lawn is more fire-resistant. Grass shorter than 10 centimetres is less likely to burn intensely. If possible, ensure your lawn is well hydrated, as dry grass has a higher flammability potential.

Want to know how FireSmart your home is? Visit FireSmart Score Card and find out!

However, should you be the victim of a house fire, contact your insurance broker for immediate assistance.

RELATED READING: FireSmart uses landscaping boom to boost awareness

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