After a hot, dry summer, it’s here – wildfire season. A comprehensive checklist to help protect your home and property.
With the summer nearly over, many of us thought we might move into September having enjoyed a lovely summer but without the spectre of wildfires. Unfortunately, not so. In a very short time, thanks to a rash of lightning storms, this second half of August is delivering yet another wildfire season. In spades.
As we witness imminent threat in various locations throughout the province of British Columbia, we can’t help but think of the ravages of recent wildfires in Australia as well as those closer to home, in Fort McMurray and breaking records in BC in the summers of 2017 and 2018.
When we see recent images from Penticton, with fires raging on the mountain above the city, it’s chilling. We read of the evacuations and only imagine what we would possibly to do to protect our homes and belongings in such a terrifying situation.
While some of us may have thought we’d make it through summer unscathed, official resources knew better. Natural Resources Canada (NRC) has predicted a wildfire season that is “well above average,” throughout Canada – from BC to Northern Ontario to the territories. With a late start, NRC is predicting that parts BC could see this wildfire season with the heightened threat of wildfires to extend into early fall.
To keep up to date with the state of wildfires throughout British Columbia be sure to bookmark the Government of British Columbia interactive wildfire map, where all wildfires throughout the province are recorded and tracked.
Is there any way to prepare? Let’s be clear, there are no certainties when it comes to the threat of wildfire – and that includes completely protecting your home and property. But, there are several proactive steps you can take to do your best, with the understanding that your personal safety and that of your family always comes before that of your belongings.
Do you live in an area prone to wildfires?
Forest fires, when started naturally, are typically considered beneficial to the ecosystem. Fires are an essential element that contributes to forest health and renewal. They help to release important nutrients and seeds as they clear the overhanging canopy to allow vital sunlight that stimulates new growth.
But, as critical as they are to environmental and forest health, between the hotter, drier summers and urban development, wildfires pose an increasing risk to communities and homes. According to statistics collected by the NRC, 2.5 million hectares per year have been consumed by Canadian wildfires over the past 3 decades. Such damage has come at a significant cost to land and property. It has also meant a significant amount of money spent on fire suppression efforts – $500 million to $1 billion a year.
Is yours an area at increased risk? If your community or property is surrounded by grassland, forest, or brush, chances are, you’re at greater risk during the wildfire season.
Consider your building materials very carefully
When you live in an area of elevated risk of wildfires, one of the best ways to protect your home or business against loss or damage is prevention and mitigation, according to the experts at the Institute of Catastrophic Loss Reduction (ICLR).
There is plenty of expertise and knowledge to help make homes less vulnerable to destruction by wildfire. According to a report by the ICLR on trends in North American wildfire events and the prevention of loss, “Firewise homes have a survivable landscape and use appropriate building materials. Investments of a few hundred dollars can significantly reduce the risk [of] wildfire damage.”
Additionally, there are organizations that work with insurance companies that offer resources to homeowners and builders to construct fire-resistant homes. For instance, the ICLR supports the adoption of Wildland Urban Interface provisions in national building codes, working closely with the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and FireSmart Canada.
Flying sparks and embers are a huge concern as they can catch and ignite your home. According to FireSmart Canada, burning debris can be flung up to two kilometres ahead of a wildfire. The radiant heat alone can melt vinyl siding and break windows. Direct flames will ignite and consume anything flammable in the fire’s path.
As best you can, create a non-combustible zone up to 1.5 metres around your home – clear of any materials that might ignite easily. FireSmart suggests removing, or at least reducing, the number of shrubs, evergreens, and highly flammable junipers, within 10 metres of any structures. Keep trees thinned and pruned within 10 to 30 metres of your home. Be sure, too, to keep any nearby powerlines free and clear of tree limbs.
When initiating a new build or renovation, ask your contractor about materials that would help protect from fire. For example, instead of wood shakes or vinyl siding, opt for products such as fibre-cement siding. The same goes for roofing – metal sheeting or asphalt shingles instead of wood shakes.
Keep in mind, fire protection doesn’t mean that aesthetics or design are compromised. Today’s building materials offer beautiful finishes. For instance, durable materials like steel and concrete can be made with an attractive wood grain appearance. With innovation in building materials, homeowners can enjoy maximum protection and safety and beautiful design and aesthetics.
Your fire-resistant home checklist
An active wildfire season is frightening to most home and business owners. But, there are a variety of things you can do to better protect your property if ever under threat from fire:
- Siding: While attractive, untreated wood or vinyl siding materials will offer little to no protection from fire. To provide more protection, choose products like metal, brick, stucco, or fibre-cement siding.
- Roofing: Like siding, choose a fire-resistant roof material. These include asphalt, metal, clay or composite rubber tiles. Untreated wood product – shakes – combusts easily, but can also leave openings where sparks or embers can enter your home.
- Decks: Similarly, opt for a non-combustible decking product.
- Gutters and eaves: Keep your gutters clear of accumulation of leaves, branches and other debris. It can ignite from sparks or embers.
- Windows: Single-pane windows are vulnerable to intense heat and can shatter. Tempered, thermal (dual-paned or multi-paned) windows are far more durable. Use metal screens to help minimize any radiant exposure. They also protect against sparks or embers entering the home.
- Doors: Your doors should all be fire-rated and have a proper seal. This includes your garage doors as well as those on any outbuildings, too.
- Vents: Vents can be an easy entry point for embers and sparks to get indoors. Install fire-rated vents and screen vents and other openings to minimize burning debris from getting inside your home.
- Chimney: Install a spark arrestor to minimize the probability of your chimney spitting sparks onto nearby brush and buildings to start a fire outdoors.
- Landscaping: Important, particularly during wildfire season – maintain your landscaping. Keep it tidy and the lawn mowed. Dried grasses nearby offer an opportunity to catch from wildfire.
- Fence: While lovely, a wood fence can actually direct a wildfire right to your house. Provide separation with a metal gate between the house and your fence.
- Sheds and outbuildings: Follow this checklist for any buildings within 10 metres of your home – sheds, garages, workshop, guesthouse, and outhouses.
It’s likely that your existing insurance policy (including your condo, auto, tenant, commercial, and farm policies) has you protected from potential destruction or damage from wildfire.