Quite honestly, I never really thought about my home being in the interface or that needed to worry much about Firesmarting my property until the fire from the landfill last year came over the hill above my house.
In my defense, we had a very wet and cold spring similar to the one we are having this year and I convinced myself that the threat of wildfire was going to be virtually non- existent.
However, I must admit after personally experiencing quite a number of Okanagan summers, I have no excuse for believing that it wouldn’t be dry and hot in the Okanagan — and the wildfire risk extremely high— by mid-August, regardless of the spring we had.
Thankfully that day, the wind pushed the fire away from our homes and the Ministry of Forests air tankers were able to lay down a line of protective retardant before it changed.
Nevertheless, I remember quite vividly when I drove out of my driveway on my way to the fire wondering whether we would have enough time to evacuate the neighbourhood, especially as my family and neighbours had climbed on to the roofs of their homes for a better look at the fire.
That concern became even more prevalent later that evening when I witnessed fire brands passing over my head, starting fires almost a kilometre away from the fire at the landfill. I remembered the words of the mayor of Slave Lake only a few months earlier describing how it was fire brands carried by strong winds that were responsible for burning most of the homes and buildings in her town. Needless to say, I was extremely relieved when the winds died down and we were able to get the fire under control.
Being part of the fire service protecting this community, I certainly would like to believe it was our intervention that saved the day, but in reality the outcome was a lot more like Mother Nature issuing a warning and providing us with a second chance to get our homes in order and protect them from wildfire. We can use whatever excuse we want — I personally like “It will never happen to me!”
The reality is that if we aren’t willing do a few simple things to protect ourselves beforehand, and a significant wildfire event does decide to come to a town near us, there is a good chance that we are going to have a very bad day.
Our best defense against something similar happening to us is and has always been to protect our homes with a Firesmart strategy. So, no excuses this year—it is time for all of us all to become Firesmart.
If you are unfamiliar with how to Firesmart your home, here is a short checklist from the Firesmart manual to get you started and on the right track. It supplies an easy and effortless way to effectively protect your property from the threat of wildfire by making it part of your annual spring home and yard cleanup.
Remove all combustibles (firewood, lumber, debris piles) a minimum of 10 metres away from the house.
Remove all dead needles and leaves from your roof and gutters.
Clean dead needles and leaves and any combustibles from underneath home openings (decks, porches) and skirt or screen those openings.
Ensure all eaves and vents are screened (attic vents, soffits).
Ensure your fireplace chimney is screened, has been recently cleaned, and is free of overhanging branches.
If thinking of changing your roofing, use a ULC class A (non-combustible) roofing material such as metal, clay/ceramic tile, Unicrete recycled rubber, or asphalt shingle.
Rake and remove all dead and/or down vegetation (trees, shrubs, needles, leaves, grass) from your yard and within a minimum of three metres from your house.
Remove flammable vegetation next your house (juniper, native grasses, spruce/pine/fir trees).
Keep your grass regularly mowed or weed-whipped and use the sprinkler to keep it green and moist.
Ensure your outdoor fire pit is in a safe location and surrounded by a minimum of one-metre non-combustible surface cover (gravel, concrete).
Remove flammable vegetation (grasses, shrubs, trees) for a minimum three-metre area surrounding your propane tank.
Develop an evacuation plan and ensure all family members are aware of it.
Ensure you have enough hose and sprinklers to reach the top of your roof and a ladder to install them when necessary.
Have some fire tools on-hand in a readily accessible spot (axe, shovel, water can).
Vernon Fire Rescue Services sincerely hopes that you and your family experience a fantastic Okanagan summer. Enjoy our lakes and stay safe from wildfire.
Lawrie Skolrood is deputy fire chief with the Vernon Fire Department.