Wildfires & fire prevention

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The confluence of hot, dry spring weather throughout Canada, before vegetation in forests leafed out, contributes to the conflagration of wildfires across our country.

University of Toronto’s Dr. Patrick James is a forestry expert who said sources of ignition in the forests – parched soils, dry tinder – plus high temperatures and little rain set perfect conditions for fire.

Queens University’s forestry expert Edward Struzik agrees, explaining that although lightening causes most wildfires, human beings cause between a third to a half of them. Whether it’s hot engines of ATVs igniting tinder-dry grasses, twigs and leaves, smouldering cigarettes or joints, or improperly extinguished campfires – we are prime firestarters.

Prevention

James said that to prevent fires, we must “invest in emergency preparedness, education, and optimize fuel mitigation around communities.”

We also need, he suggests, to recognize our obligation to think of fire through the lens of climate change. We must recognize the confluence of conditions. “There’s a link between carbon dioxide emissions, temperature, heat and wildfires.”

Canadians, he said, should understand that the situation this spring is “not a one-off. Extremes now are the new normal and we need to brace ourselves for more, not fewer, wildfires.”

What can we do?

Buildings: homes and businesses

Firesmart Canada’s website provides good tips regarding fire prevention/mitigation, including “keep a 1.5 metre non-combustible zone around the house and deck.”

Browse firesmart.ca for recommendations, including an analysis of what types of vegetation grow around your house – evergreens, which ignite quickly are not as desirable as deciduous trees. Also, “keep grass and weeds cut below 10 cm.” – This rather puts the kibosh on no-mow-May experiments.

Community preparedness days

Wildfire Community Preparedness Day is a national campaign observed on the first Saturday in May. May 6 has passed – but perhaps Pontiac mayors and councillors should consider holding one.

Firesmart.ca notes, “Groups can apply for a $500 award to fund their Prep Day events. FireSmart™ Canada, in collaboration with the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction (ICLR), and The Co-operators supports this annual event by offering the $500 award.  This year, FireSmart Canada awarded more recipients than ever before. In 2023, 230 neighbourhoods in 10 provinces and two territories received an award, compared to last year’s 162 neighbourhoods.”

Let’s do this next year. Meanwhile? How to best educate ourselves?

FireSmart101 free course

FireSmart offers a free one-hour course to help homeowners understand how to protect homes and properties from wildfires (firesmartcanada.ca/programs/firesmart-101/)

Creating a buffer is key

Communities are most at risk not from a wall of fire approaching from a forest, but from wind-blown sparks which ignite after landing on combustible material.

Kara McCurdy is the wildfire prevention officer with Nova Scotia’s Department of Natural Resources where she liaises with FireSmart Canada. She says, “It doesn’t matter if your home isn’t in a wooded area. Once one home catches fire, it’s like a domino effect and many homes can catch fire.”

Therefore, reducing combustibles close to a building as well as the cladding used is key. Wooden decks? Replace with stone patios or at least have the part of the deck connecting to the building made of non-combustible materials.

Cladding such as brick, stucco, metal, or stone are best, while wood is combustible. Vinyl siding melts and exposes the inner construction – usually wood – to embers and flames.

Even though we’ve heard that building fences creates good neighbours, wooden fences are good conductors of fire from one home to another.

Whatever assessment you do, if you’re like me, you see huge expenses.

Woodlot management

And what about woodlot management? There’s lots of highly combustible fuel in the woods and on the forest floor such as dead ash and spruce trees, felled from derechos and tornadoes, ice storms and insect damage.

How can woodlot owners mitigate forest fires?

Climate change shows no mercy. So let’s inform ourselves.

Contact Katharine at fletcher.katharine@gmail.com