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How to make your home more resistant to wildfires

Wednesday, September 1st 2021, 1:28 pm - Use fireproof material and keep combustable plants away from the house, experts say

On Aug. 1, Margaret Wlazly had to evacuate her mountainside home in B.C.'s central Okanagan as the White Rock Lake wildfire threatened her community.

Although she was anxious, Wlazly found comfort in having taken proactive measures to protect their home — such as having a metal roof — in case a fire swept to their doorsteps.

Fortunately, the wind direction changed, and today Wlazly's home still stands.

"When the fire was very close to my neighbourhood, miracles happened and the wind changed direction," she says.

But not everyone should anticipate a miracle. Wlazly stresses the importance of preparing homes for wildfire risks. Experts add that preventive measures are increasingly important across the province as climate change continues to fuel fires.

"These are a consequence of climate change. And the trajectory that we are on is for even warmer and drier conditions into the future. So this is our new reality," said Lori Daniels, wildfire expert and forest ecology professor at the University of British Columbia.

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A FIRE-RESISTANT HOME

In North Vancouver, Daniels has outfitted her home with fire-resistant features.

"That means there is no burnable debris immediately around your home, in your gutters, on your roof, or caught around the edges of [your] home or under a deck. That's all kindling for your house to catch fire," she said.

Since Daniel's home borders a forested park, one of her significant preventive measures is a fireproof metal roof. Although it's costly, at almost $28,000, it has left her feeling safer.

Alternative fire-resistant roofing materials include asphalt, clay and composite rubber tiles, according to FireSmart B.C.

Other preventive measures in Daniel's home include concrete siding and double-paned UV thermal glass windows.

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PROACTIVE LANDSCAPING

Rock gardens in Daniel's backyard also provide a barrier between her fence and the walls of her home. The branches of her cedar trees have also been cut so they don't hang above the roof.

FireSmart B.C. also recommends maintaining a 1.5-metre, non-combustible zone around your entire home. This means having a surface of soil, rock or stone, with no plants, debris or other flammable materials.

It is also worth investing in fire-resilient plants, which accumulate minimal dead vegetation, and avoiding cedars, junipers and tall grasses, says FireSmart B.C. program lead, Kelsey Winter.

Fire resistant landscaping at the North Vancouver home of Lori Daniels, a wildfire expert and forest ecology professor at the University of British Columbia. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC) Fire resistant landscaping at the North Vancouver home of Lori Daniels, a wildfire expert and forest ecology professor at the University of British Columbia. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Daniels hopes these small measures, implemented over the last few years, will amount to future security.

Low fire activity on the coast shouldn't lull Metro Vancouver residents into complacency, she says.

"We are not safe because we live on the coast and in coastal temperate rainforest. We are also vulnerable," she warns.

"And it would be a mistake if we didn't also act proactively and be adaptive, ready to coexist with fire."

ROOFTOP SPRINKLERS

In more wildfire-threatened areas in B.C.'s Interior, residents like Clive Calloway are adding sprinklers to their roofs.

"When this latest fire hit ... we started thinking, 'Well, what should we do for a bit of personal responsibility and peace of mind, especially at nighttime?' " he said.

He added that the sprinklers have helped them "sleep a bit easier."

PERSONAL AND SHARED RESPONSIBILITY

FireSmart B.C. is reminding the public that there are manuals homeowners can read to improve their homes' fire resistance.

And more residents are paying attention.

"It's heartening to see that there's more people now that are taking their wildfire risk seriously, because it's not going away anytime soon," said Winter.

Winter says fire departments, local governments and First Nation communities are taking steps to better prepare for wildfires.

However, collective implementation of FireSmart B.C.'s preventive measures could be improved.

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"We're going to keep having these terrible wildfire summers. So it's a matter of everybody taking the steps to get better prepared."

Winter adds that being prepared can bring comfort when people are forced to evacuate their homes.

"You're comfortable walking away from your home, because ... you know you've prepared it to the best that you can."

This article, written by Baneet Braich, was originally published for CBC News.

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