How B.C. homeowners can prepare for wildfires

As wildfires continue to burn through B.C. and weather forecasts are calling for more hot, dry conditions, one UBC professor shares proactive steps homeowners and communities can take to lessen the risk of damage when the next fire hits.

'We need to be approaching this from a proactive perspective,' says UBC professor

The Shovel Lake wildfire near Burns Lake, B.C., triggered an evacuation order on Aug. 13, 2018. (B.C. Wildfire Service)
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A state of emergency was announced on  Wednesday in response to the hundreds of wildfires burning out of control in B.C. As the weather forecasts for the province continue to call for hot and dry conditions, one expert suggests preventative measures to lessen the risk of damage.

"We need to be approaching this from a proactive perspective as homeowners as communities and that will give us a fighting chance to get wildfire back on the landscape," said Lori Daniels, a UBC professor with the Department of Forest and Conservation Sciences.

Daniels says it's important for individuals to be aware of risks when it comes to fire.

Across B.C., there are 566 fires burning and 3,050 people have been affected by evacuation orders. This year is ranked the fourth worst wildfire season on record.

Homeowners who live in areas that have burnable vegetation in their communities — such as urban parks that are forested — are more susceptible to wildfires, she told The Current's guest host, Laura Lynch.

Daniels suggested the Fire Smart Canada website as a resource to prepare homes in case of fire.

Here are a couple of simple principles she suggests homeowners take on:

  • Get up on your roof: "Make sure there's no burnable debris up on our gutters and on the roof, because the number one way a house burns down is when embers come from an adjacent fire lands on your house and catches that house on fire," Daniels explained.
  • Clear burnable debris near your home: "We should be clearing burnable debris from around the edge of our house and off decks. Think about your landscaping. Make sure your firewood isn't stacked right against your home or garage. Those are all examples where we could be getting rid of — quite literally — the kindling right adjacent to our homes," said Daniels.
B.C. RCMP deployed to assist with wildfire impacts throughout the province. (BC RCMP)
'I'm looking at these fires and I don't think anything's going out until the snow flies,' says Tracy Calogheros. She was at her cabin on an island in Francois Lake when lightning struck earlier this month. 1:01

'Give wildland firefighters a fighting chance'

On a community level, Daniels warned that adaptation "especially under climate change" is urgently needed. She points to the development of a community wildfire protection plan that is actively adhered to as the first step toward taking control.

"Communities need to be looking at what is the condition of the vegetation surrounding their community, how much burnable fuel is there, and then thinking of ways that they can manage that fuel to create a defensible space around the community," said Daniels.

Creating "a defensible space" can involve thinning out the forest, removing smaller trees, opening up the canopy, leaving large trees behind, trying to get rid of the burnable debris down on the ground.

Wildfires have burned through nearly 400,000 hectares in B.C. this year. (B.C. Wildfire Service)

"What that does is changes the structure of the forest immediately surrounding the town or the city, and in the case of fire burning towards the community, it creates this buffer zone where there's less fuel so the fire behaviour would change — slow down the fire — and really give those wildland firefighters ... a fighting chance at putting it out."

Daniels argued that the province is now spending "orders of magnitude" more money reacting to the wildfires compared to what they might have spent if they better planned for their response ahead of time.

"We've spent $3 billion since 2004 just fighting fires but only less than $200 million trying to be proactive," she said.

"Our communities need to be safeguarded."

Listen to the full discussion near the top of this page.


This segment was produced by The Current's Donya Ziaee and Jessica Linzey.

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