Opinion: FireSmart B.C. program’s goal is to educate folks about making informed decisions regarding their landscape choices in order to make their homes and properties more fire safe.Opinion: FireSmart B.C. program’s goal is to educate folks about making informed decisions regarding their landscape choices in order to make their homes and properties more fire safe.Read MoreThe Vancouver Sun – RSS Feed

Opinion: FireSmart B.C. program’s goal is to educate folks about making informed decisions regarding their landscape choices in order to make their homes and properties more fire safe.

The Red Jewel Flowering Crabapple requires less water to be fully hydrated. Photo by Minter Country Garden /jpg

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As we move into the warmest time of summer, our surrounding forests and grasslands will become dangerously dry. This is when the potential for wildfires increases dramatically, not only in the more rural, interior parts of our province, but also along coastal areas where even small forested and natural grassland areas can be potential fire hazards. The recent European heat wave is a prime example of how, in a very short period of time, fires can ignite and burn out of control, destroying many homes and buildings, and even taking lives.

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We are very fortunate to have a provincial FireSmart program. In association with FireWise in the U.S. and FireSmart Canada, the FireSmart B.C. program launched last year, and its goal is to educate all British Columbians about making informed decisions regarding their landscape choices in order to make their homes and properties more fire safe.

It’s a seven-discipline program meant to help individuals, neighbourhoods and committees become better equipped to mitigate and prevent wildfire damage. The components of the program are: vegetation management, emergency planning, cross training, interagency co-operation, development consideration, legislation and planning.

As individuals, vegetation management is, by far, the best preventive action that we can take to protect our homes and neighbourhoods.

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FireSmart B.C. has produced an excellent landscaping guide, available from certain garden centres who are participating in the program. This information is also available from the FireSmart website: firesmartbc.ca.

If you live in a higher risk wildfire area, this guide is highly relevant. As we are experiencing more extreme summer weather, the reality is we all need to assess our homes’ fire risks, and this guide provides valuable information that we might not normally consider as important, but frankly, it’s vital. The fires in London and across the U. K., during their recent 41 C temperatures, is dramatic proof that we need to rethink our landscape planning.

The FireSmart B.C. Landscape Guide focuses on realistic changes we can all make to the most critical areas within 10 metres of our homes. By maintaining a 1.5-m fire safe zone around our homes and buildings, this will help prevent fire embers from potentially igniting these structures. As the guide points out, during wildfires, 50 per cent of house fires are caused by embers igniting combustible materials, like bark mulch, placed near homes.

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The next area to consider is called the intermediate zone — a distance about two-to-10 m beyond our homes. This area can be used effectively as a fire break. Driveways, paths, stones, patios and other hardscapes, when strategically located, can slow a wildfire’s advance.

The FireSmart B.C. Landscaping Guide. Photo by Minter Country Garden /jpg

The key is to make sure all plants are grouped together in small islands that are separated from each other and are well cared for. Using fire smart plants will also help ensure minimal, if any, combustion takes place.

Well-maintained lawns can also create a fire-resistant fuel break. Deep watering, once or twice a week, depending on your soil, will keep your lawn hydrated and green, and mowing shorter will allow your lawn to waste less water during nighttime transpiration. The adding of white Dutch clover will also help keep your lawn greener, requiring less water.

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Fire-resistant ground covers, like Japanese spurge, Pachysandra terminalis for shade and Cotoneaster dammeri for sun, are excellent choices for beautiful, safer plantings.

In the intermediate zone, larger trees should be planted no closer than five metres between centres, and tree canopies should be at least three metres away from any structures. Taller trees should have no branches closer to the ground than two-metres-to-three metres.

For larger yards, with areas 10-to-30 m beyond your home, the canopies of any good-sized trees should be at least four metres apart. All trees should be pruned on a regular basis to ensure there is no dead wood left on the trees; dead wood is, of course, far more flammable. It’s also very important to prune spreading branches away from your house.

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When selecting or reselecting plants for your landscape, it’s wise to choose plants that are more fire resistant. The FireSmart B.C. Landscaping Guide has an excellent listing of plants ranked according to their water requirements for adequate hydration. Conifers, for example, aren’t considered FireSmart friendly, but because they’re invaluable in the landscape and create great habitats for birds, they can be used in strategic locations and with special care, such as pruning lower branches and raking up fallen needles and cones. Taller varieties can be limbed up.

Deciduous trees, like flowering crab apples, quaking aspens and flowering plums, are low water-users, but the majority are rated as having medium water consumption. Many flowering shrubs, such as ninebarks, lilacs, barberries, PeeGee hydrangeas and rugosa roses, have low water requirements. Most perennials, like coreopsis, rudbeckias and lavenders are low water consumers. Most grasses, especially in late summer and fall, can be quite flammable, but a few, like blue fescues, are better choices.

With the wildfire season upon us, I think we all need to reassess our homes and gardens in terms of being more fire safe, and FireSmart B.C. is providing some great, practical information on how to make that happen.

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