Wildfires: Should homeowners fight or flee?

Is evacuation the best way to deal with wildfire? In Australia, homeowners have a choice to either leave early or stay and defend their property. As wildfires rage across western Canada, we'll speak with a researcher who has studied the various approaches.
A fire fighter helps fight wildfire in the La Ronge, Sask. area, while a fire truck sprays water to dose the flames, on July 4, 2015. (Saskatchewan Ministry of Government Relations)

This week, wildfire forced residents from their homes in B.C., Alberta, and Saskatchewan. Evacuation orders were issued, and emergency shelters were set up to house those with nowhere else to go. 

The B.C. government's website for emergency preparedness says this of an evacuation order: "You are at risk. Leave the area immediately."

But evacuations aren't the only way to deal with wildfire. 

In Australia, there's a policy called "stay and defend or leave early." Homeowners have a choice — leave when the threat of fire arises, or stay and protect their homes.

But to minimize risk, proper protection requires proper education.

Sarah McCaffrey is a researcher with the U.S. Forest Service who has written about stay-and-defend. She says all residents should know how to protect their homes, even if they don't plan to stay. Part of that involves taking defensive measures in advance.

For a lot of people, losing a home is their life... And there's actually a lot you can do to defend your home and increase the chances that it will survive a fire.

"There's a lot you can do to prepare your property," she says.

"You need to have a flame-resistant roof ... you cover your vents and eaves with screening, to prevent embers getting in the house, because that's actually the main cause of houses getting lost; it's actually the embers and not the flame threat."

She also advises that homeowners take a good look at their property and what's growing on it. "You can manage the vegetation around the house to decrease the ability for the flame front to actually get to the house."

McCaffrey says that, depending on the conditions, informed homeowners can minimize the risk of losing their home.



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