Making Communities 'Fire Smart'

Canada has already seen devastating urban forest fires, and some communities are preparing for the worst by adopting "FireSmart" principles into their bylaws.

"Wildfires, much like those that gutted posh homes in Southern California, remain a constant risk in Canada. More homes are being built next to lush wooded areas, putting houses at increasing risk, said Michael Feller, associate professor at the University of British Columbia's forest sciences department.

Canada's already seen the havoc and pain a forest fire can wreak.

In the summer of 2003, people in Kelowna and the Okanagan Valley in southeastern B.C. watched helplessly from the sidelines as their houses went up in smoke. About 50,000 people were evacuated from their homes. The firefighting costs alone reached upwards of $400 million, and insurance payouts reached $200 million.

It didn't have to be this bad.

[There are some] common-sense tips [in the] FireSmart Manual, a guide to help homeowners reduce the risk of losing their houses to forest fires. It was produced by the Partners in Protection organization based in Edmonton.

Its recommendations include ensuring that the immediate vicinity around the house is free of items that would fuel a fire, such as dry shrubs or a wood pile. Trees that are more combustible, such as pine and spruce, should be removed, or spaced at least 3 to 6 metres apart so flames can't spread as easily.

These adjustments can't fire-proof a home, but can cut the risk of damage significantly, said Kelly O'Shea of Partners in Protection.

Some communities, such as Langford, B.C., have factored these principles into their municipal bylaws."

Full Story: Forest fires in urban areas

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