A dry, hot spell means wildfire season isn’t far away. Do what you can NOW to help keep your home protected.
Despite the long, wet spring the recent run of hot weather means that wildfire season can’t be far behind. As the world witnessed the savagery of wildfires as they devastated Australia late last year and early into 2020, it wasn’t hard to imagine what Australians were feeling, living where we do.
We’ve seen recent examples of devastation by wildfire closer to home: the Fort McMurray fires that ravaged a whopping 590,000 hectares and destroyed 2,400 homes in 2016; the state of emergency declared in British Columbia in 2017 and 2018 due to record-setting wildfires.
It’s important, with increasing evidence of climate change, to understand how vulnerable our surrounding forests and environments are to lightning strikes. Add increased human activity in remote areas and increased risk of fire caused by people (unintentional and arson) into the mix, and a hot summer becomes a literal tinderbox of potential wildfire risk.
This summer, Natural Resources Canada (NRC) has predicted a wildfire season that is “well above average,” throughout the nation – from British Columbia to Northern Ontario and the territories. NRC is anticipating that parts of the prairies and B.C. could even see fire season and an elevated threat of wildfires extend well into September.
In a situation that seems so beyond your control, what can you do to be prepared? While saving your home is not a sure thing in the event of real wildfire threat, there are a few things that can help you protect your home as best you can:
Identify if yours is an area of high-risk for wildfires
Did you know? Approximately nine per cent of the world’s forests are here in Canada. Given that, it’s important to understand that wildfire is as vital for forest renewal as the rain and the sun. Forest fires release vital nutrients that exist on the ground and they clear the canopy above for sunlight, which helps to stimulate new growth.
But, as critical as fires are to renewing our forests, more and more are sparked and burn closer to communities and individual homes. According to NRC, over the past 30 years, Canadian wildfires have consumed approximately 2.5 million hectares per year. Not only is this at tremendous cost to land and property, but it’s also a tremendous amount of money in fire suppression efforts, to the tune of $500 million to $1 billion a year.
How do you know if your area is one at high-risk? Is your community or home surrounded by forest, brush, or grassland? You are at higher risk for wildfires, particularly during the summer months. The Canadian Wildland Fire Information System by NRC monitors the fire danger across Canada constantly and offers an interactive fire map with up-to-date reports.
Consider your building materials very carefully
If you live in a high-risk area like ours, particularly with the elevated wildfire threat this summer, the best protection against loss, damage or injury is prevention and mitigation is your building materials, according to the Institute of Catastrophic Loss Reduction (ICLR).
According to a report by the ICLR on trends in North American wildfire events, “The knowledge exists to make homes less vulnerable to wildfire. 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.”
Fortunately, there are organizations that work alongside insurance companies to provide resources to homeowners and builders and homeowners to construct fire-resistant homes.
As an example, the ICLR has supported the adoption of Wildland Urban Interface provisions in national building codes, working closely with partners like the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and FireSmart Canada.
A huge concern for homeowners is flying sparks and embers that can ignite your home. According to FireSmart, this burning debris can be thrown up to two kilometres ahead of a wildfire. A wildfire’s radiant heat, alone, can even break windows and melt vinyl siding. Of course, any flammable items in the fire’s path will ignite in direct flames.
It is recommended to establish a non-combustible zone up to 1.5 metres around your home – clear of any materials that could easily ignite. FireSmart suggests reducing evergreens, shrubs, and highly flammable junipers, within 10 metres of any structures. Thin and prune trees within 10 to 30 metres of your home and ensure that powerlines are free and clear of any tree limbs.
If you’re building new or renovating, ask your contractor about those materials that might help mitigate damage and loss from wildfires. Construction materials that are fire-resistant include products such as fibre-cement siding instead of wood shakes or vinyl siding, asphalt shingle roofing rather than wood shakes, and concrete decking material in place of wood.
In today’s buildings, materials such as concrete and steel can be made with a wood grain appearance. Modern, innovative building materials allow homeowners to enjoy the best of both worlds – beautiful aesthetics and safety.
A checklist for a more fire-resistant home
The prospect of wildfire is terrifying to most homeowners but there are a variety of ways you can help to protect your home:
- Gutters and eaves: It’s very important to clear gutters of buildup from leaves, branches and other debris regularly – these are easily ignited by embers or sparks.
- Windows: Replace any single-pane windows with tempered, thermal (dual-paned or multi-paned) windows, as the intense heat from approaching wildfire can break single-pane windows. Metal screens help to reduce radiant exposure and can protect against any entry of sparks or embers.
- Doors: All doors should be fire-rated and have a proper seal. Not just your home, but garage and outbuildings, as well.
- Vents: Vents offer an entry point for sparks and embers into your home. Install fire-rated vents and screen any vents or other openings to minimize the risk of drifting sparks or embers getting into your home.
- Siding: Vinyl siding and untreated wood products provide little to no fire protection. Consider products such as stucco, brick, and metal or fibre-cement siding, that all offer good protection from fire.
- Roofing: As with siding, consider a fire-resistant roof material such as metal, asphalt, clay or composite rubber tiles. Untreated wood, like shakes, is easily combustible and it can also leave crevices where sparks or embers can get into your home.
- Chimney: Minimize the chance of your chimney starting a fire outdoors onto nearby buildings and brush – install a spark arrestor.
- Decks: Choose a non-combustible decking product.
- Landscaping: Keep your landscaping tidy with the lawn kept short. Grasses that are allowed to dry out along your fence become an opportunity for a wildfire to catch on your property.
- Sheds and outbuildings: Follow this checklist for those buildings within 10 metres of your home – garages, sheds, workshop, guesthouse, and even outhouses.
- Fence: A wooden fence can lead a wildfire directly to your house. Install a metal gate as a separation between your house and your wood fence.
Chances are, your home insurance policy (as well as auto, condo, tenant, farm and commercial) protect you from damage caused by wildfire.
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