Fire chiefs in the Columbia Valley are far more interested in helping you prevent a fire than in fighting a fire at your house. That is why they are pushing proactive mitigation work for homeowners.
‘FireSmart’ is a national initiative to educate Canadians on the steps they can take to protect their family, property, and community from wildfire. Preventative action is encouraged, including clearing plants and other vegetation around a home, ensuring no trees hang over the roof, and planting vegetation that is less combustible than some traditional varieties.
Columbia Valley Fire Chief Jim Miller says one of the biggest concerns in this area is the threat of wildfires.
“That’s why we’re really pushing on FireSmarting (your property),” says Chief Miller. “A house that has been Firesmarted buys us a tremendous amount of time and makes a home save-able.”
If fire crews know a fire is going to consume a house because of flammable landscaping or fuels nearby, they will likely push more resources to surrounding properties to protect them instead. Chief Miller says if his crew shows up for a fire callout and the property has not been safeguarded against fire, they know the likelihood is the fire will not only consume that house, but spread to neighbour’s homes as well.
“We wouldn’t waste our resources on something that’s not save-able,” Chief Miller says.
Simple measures like not stacking firewood next to your house, ensuring branches are cleared from directly beside your walls, or taking out cedar bushes, can go a long way in making a property safer. Cedar bushes are “like pouring gasoline” on a fire, Chief Miller describes.
Communities like Rushmere have been making FireSmart a priority for years now, with community work bees to clear new growth around homes. CastleRock Estates has been recognized as a FireSmart community as well, and other neighbourhoods have discussed the possibility.
Steve Levitt, wildfire officer for the Invermere Fire Zone, also urges homeowners to invest in FireSmart initiatives.
“Columbia Valley residents can play a critical role in mitigating wildfire risks around their homes and properties by undertaking FireSmart initiatives. Homeowners who diligently implement the recommended FireSmart guidelines greatly increase the probability that their homes will survive a wildfire event. Implementing FireSmart initiatives also contributes to improving the safety of First Responders and helps them minimize losses to the community,” Mr. Levitt says.
Invermere is hosting a FireSmart community meeting this November. At the meeting, attendees will learn more about Invermere’s new Wildfire Emergency Pre-Plan, as well as hear about challenges Invermere’s firefighters face in responding to wildfires that may threaten properties in Invermere.
“We had an outside contractor come in to basically preestablish certain areas of the community and how we would respond to certain areas and what equipment we would need,” explains Fire Chief Jason Roe of the Wildfire Emergency Pre-Plan.
The Wildfire Emergency Pre-Plan investigates how the fire department would respond to specific areas of Invermere and what equipment would be needed, should a wildfire blow through. For example, the contractor looked at trees, combustible roofs, access to water and more.
“One of the big things was: with other departments coming in to help us in a major event, there are pre-established safety zones for them, and where they can get water supplies,” Chief Roe explains. Maps with detailed information for areas, such as which houses will need sprinklers on the roof or where to patrol for spot fires, are all included.
The FireSmart event in Invermere is open to everyone, Chief Roe says. He wants community members to learn more about small, affordable things they can do to reduce risk of wildfires spreading to their homes.
We want to let the community know how to take their property (and Firesmart it),” says Chief Roe. “It makes the fire department’s response much more effective, not having to deal with a fire on every property.”
Two of western Canada’s specialists in interface risk reduction and fire protection, Alan Westhaver and Don Mortimer, will also be at the meeting and will talk about the small actions that can make a big difference in reducing home fire hazards, as well as discuss Invermere’s plan. Chief Roe says both speakers are great and it is well worth the time to come and listen to them.
Invermere’s FireSmart event takes place Tuesday, November 5th from 7-8:30 p.m. at the Columbia Valley Centre.