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General News · 2nd June 2015
CIFFA - Stephanie
Due to the recent fire on Cortes and the prediction of a hot dry summer, the Cortes Island Fire Department would like to share this article with you. It is written by Mike Gall from the Quadra Fire Department.

FIRESMART - BREAKING THE WILDFIRE DISASTER CYCLE

Many will recall the incredible 2003 wildfire which destroyed 234 homes in Kelowna and
caused the evacuation of 50,000 people. Firefighters and firefighting equipment from across Western Canada and North Western United States volunteered resources to bring the blaze under control. Amongst these were a firefighter contingent and pump truck
from Quadra Island Fire Department. More recently, in May of 2011, more than 1/3 of the Town of Slave Lake, Alberta fell victim to a wildfire of enormous proportions resulting in the loss of some 438 homes and businesses. Insurance claims exceeded $1 billion in
direct costs and $300 million in indirect costs. This event became the second largest insurance loss in Canadian history. These were only two of the big ones but each year there are 100’s of wildfires in every provincial jurisdiction. The rate of wildfire contact with our urban communities is on the rise. We must look beyond the data and strategize simple, effective and easily implemented actions designed to mitigate potential wildfire impacts.

Why does this happen when so many preventative measures are currently in place? The answers lie very close to home.
We live in changing times. As our population continues to grow, so do our communities. Urban growth presses itself ever closer to wildland edges, the point at which homes and industrial development make contact with our forests and green spaces. This is termed the Wildland Urban Interface or “WUI”. In addition, climatic changes impose their effect through hotter, dryer summers and intensified weather systems. These seemingly inconspicuous climatic shifts allow for increased areas of burn with greater levels of burn intensity. Here on the coast, we have a strong history of suppressing wildfire well before it can wreak havoc. The historical natural fire cycle has been disrupted resulting in degraded forest ecosystems and a massive increase in fire fuel load. These factors are relatively recent and have changed the very nature of our ongoing relationship with wildfire as a naturally occurring event.

Should a WUI wildfire ignite, the above mentioned factors may combine to produce a fire conflagration. As a fire front develops, extremely high temperatures develop causing convection winds to form with observed speeds in excess of 100 kilometers per hour. Masses of burning embers or firebrands, driven by the high winds, become airborne landing on structures as far as 2 kilometers ahead of the fire front itself. Much like snow drifts during a blizzard, burning embers will collect in drifts around buildings. Several structure fires may ignite simultaneously. Under these circumstances, local fire suppression agencies quickly become overwhelmed. The resulting potential loss of lives and property could be tragic. More fire trucks and firefighters are not always the only answer.

A new strategy is needed, one where homeowners and extended community exert direct control over wildfires latent destructive impact. The ultimate responsibility to protect family and property lie with the individual and their desire to fire harden their surroundings. Expressed another way, to break the WUI fire disaster cycle, we have to stop the transition of fire from the burning “wildland” fuels to the un-burnt “built or structure” fuels.

In situations where un-burnt “built” fuel fire prevention has been successful, properties that survived became medias “miracle homes”. There are many examples of the this phenomenon where wildfire destroyed all but a single unscathed
structure amongst remnants of an entirely burnt out neighborhood. When firefighting professionals investigated these miracle homes, they studied the contributing factors allowing this to happen. The theories were tested through large scale wildfire simulations and actual controlled burns. The findings resulted in a series of recommendations and development of the Canadian FireSmart, Partners in Protection program.

FireSmart is active in 9 provinces in Canada and under the FireWise banner in the US where there are over 1100 participating communities. In South Africa and Australia, where wildfires are a regular seasonal occurrence, similar programs have been deployed. FireSmart outlines a number of simple preventative measures based on exacting science and basic fire principals.
The time to implement these preventative measures is well in advance of a wildfire event, not waiting until the threat is imminent.
Many FireSmart recommendations are not expensive, not overly time consuming and can be completed with simple tools and skill levels.

The FireSmart program presents many positive attributes beyond the obvious:
You the individual have all the control. This program allows you to take on as many FireSmart recommendations as you deem necessary. Each step you take improves your homes survivability.

There are many examples where implementing Firesmart preventative elements have resulted in improved property value.
The program has demonstrated improved community relations. Where community common areas are part of a FireSmart improvement initiative, neighbours work together sharing in completion of a united goal. It can become an event where whole families participate.

Should an entire neighborhood look toward becoming FireSmart certified, they will work with local firefighting staff and a designated FireSmart Local Representative. This shared exchange has the potential of improving fire services response capability and overall community survivability.

FireSmart offers peace of mind, knowing that you have taken all appropriate measures to protect your home and property from the devastating effects of wildfire.

The FireSmart program is a perfect fit for the Discovery Islands. Many properties have not been challenged by fire in many years. Numerous property owners may believe that things are as they should be and are simply unaware of the risk. The program is designed to encourage local, self organized groups to implement solutions for wildfire safety and reduce potential property loss within the wildfire interface zone. In no way is FireSmart intended to impose a plan or interfere with anyone’s personal interaction with their natural space. In the end, it is up to the individual to create a safe environment for themselves, their neighbourhood and their community.

The next article will introduce key strategies for fire hardening your home and neighbourhood.

Mike Gall
Quadra Island Fire Department