Provincial officials are urging farmers and acreage owners to ‘FireSmart’ their property.
Dry conditions have seen wildfires season get off to an early start this year and officials say rural residents can significantly reduce the risk of property damage with some simple measures.
Start by walking around your home and examining everything within 1.5 metres of the house, Laura Stewart, FireSmart specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, said in a release.
“You want to keep a special eye out for things like dry leaves, grass and twigs, firewood piles, construction materials, and patio furniture,” she said. “Whenever possible, you want to move these items at least 10 metres from the home or safely store them in a garage or shed.”
Roofs, including gutters, should be cleared of leaves and branches.
In the article, Stewart also recommends looking for spots in siding “where embers could accumulate or hide” and ensuring vents are cleared of combustible debris.
The area under decks should also be checked and anything that can burn, including vegetation and any debris, should be removed.
FireSmart is a national program that originated with a department then called Alberta Forest Service and a number of resources can be found at wildfire.alberta.ca/firesmart. Among them is the Homeowner’s Assessment — FireSmart Begins at Home manual that breaks a property into four zones.
The 1.5 metres around a house is the ‘non-combustible’ zone and farther out are Zone 1 (1.5 to 10 metres) which is called the ‘fire resistant’ zone; Zone 2 (10 to 30 metres); and Zone 3 (30 to 100 metres).
In yards, adhere to the 4 C’s: cut, cultivate, clean and check, said Stewart.
Grass should be cut to 10 centimetres or less as short grass is “an effective fuel break,” she said. Cultivating ground around a home and outbuildings also helps prevent the spread of fire while flower beds should be cleaned of dried-out vegetation and areas near the yard cleared of dead wood such as fallen branches.
Finally, check each spring for trees and branches that may have fallen on power lines over the winter. In 2020, 37 wildfires were caused by incidents such as downed power lines coming into contact with trees. It’s recommended that someone walk the lines and call their local utility if they spot tree branches or trees in poor condition near the line.
In Zone 2, evergreens should be thinned and pruned and the area regularly cleared of fallen branches, dry grass and needles. Thinning and pruning should also be regularly done in Zone 3, but this area should also be assessed to see if a firebreak could be created.
Last year was a quiet one for wildfires in Alberta, with only about 3,300 hectares burned, a minuscule amount compared to the record 900,000 hectares that burned in 2019. Still there were more than 700 wildfires and Alberta Agriculture and Forestry says in 2020, 88 per cent were caused by careless people and “were completely preventable.”