Area home and business owners should make a concerted effort this spring to ensure their properties are properly protected from the danger of wildfires, according to Sustainable Resource Development wildfire ranger and information officer Barry Shellian.
Speaking at last week's Sundre Petroleum Operators Group (SPOG) Environmental Issues Seminar at the James River Hall, Shellian said property owners can do a lot of things to make sure they don't lose their homes and buildings to wildlfires.
Wildfires are fires that spread from wooded areas to built-up areas such as farmyards and rural homes.
During his lecture, Shellian said homeowners should work to ensure that their homes and buildings are within what he calls a ‘Survivable Space'.
That can involve making sure properties are kept clean of debris that could add fuel to fires, that homeowners consider using fire-resistant building materials for roofs and other construction, and that families prepare evacuation plans in the event of a wildfire.
Questions to ask when determining if a property is a survivable space include “Is my house on or near a hill?”, “Does my property adjoin open fields, forests, or public lands?”, “Is there a water source (ie: hydrant) close by my house?”, “Can emergency equipment get to my house and is my driveway accessible?”, “Is my property's address clearly visible to emergency vehicles?”, and “Am I in the forest protection area or covered by a fire department?”
“Homes near open fields or forests may have an increased fire danger. Plan fuel breaks on your property, as appropriate,” he said.
“It is very important that emergency vehicles have access to your home to fight a fire. A lack of access limits a firefighter's effectiveness.”
When landscaping a property to make it fire safe, things to know include that fires that ignite in dry grass and brush burn very quickly, that certain trees ignite easily and burn intensely, that removing low branches can reduce the chance of flames jumping from grass into the trees, and that removing vegetation or choosing fire-resistant vegetation, can increase the chances that wildfire will not spread to surrounding buildings.
Other tips include that driveways can work as firebreaks, that green lawns around properties will help slow fires, and that placing shrubs some distance apart reduces the chances of flames jumping from plant to plant.
As far as fire smart building materials, roofs should ideally be made of relatively non-combustible materials such as asphalt shingles (or better yet, metal roofing material) rather than flammable alternatives such as wood shakes, he said.
Making sure gutters are routinely cleaned of windblown leaves, twigs and other material will help prevent sparks from finding fuel in the kindling. As well, tree branches should be trimmed away from building walls and eaves.
Chimneys should be cleaned periodically to remove carbon buildup, and a spark arrestor over the chimney opening is also a must to ensure sparks are not carried into surrounding areas.
As far as a family evacuation plan, it should include the establishment of an alarm system, the designation of a muster point for family members in the event of a fire, knowing power and gas shutoff procedures, and making a list of items to be evacuated such as important papers and documents.
Alberta Sustainable Resource Development has just released three FireSmart homeowners booklets with information on how to avoid wildfire problems. The books are available free of charge at any area forestry office.
As well, more information on wildfire safety is available at www.srd.alberta.ca/Wildfire/FireSmartCommunities.