Wildfire experts advising B.C. homeowners to fire-smart properties as temperatures begin to rise

·3 min read
A B.C. Wildfire Service fire is set to protect the Cariboo Fire Centre and Williams Lake airport on July 8, 2017. Prescribed burns are increasingly being used to mitigate fire risk in B.C. (Stephan Karolat/B.C. Wildfire Service - image credit)
A B.C. Wildfire Service fire is set to protect the Cariboo Fire Centre and Williams Lake airport on July 8, 2017. Prescribed burns are increasingly being used to mitigate fire risk in B.C. (Stephan Karolat/B.C. Wildfire Service - image credit)

While a cool and wet spring in much of B.C. has helped delay the fire season this year, the forecast is calling for a return to seasonal temperatures into August with little rain in sight.

And while the province has said it has been increasing efforts to help reduce wildfires, some wildfire experts say more needs to be done — including regulations to ensure homeowners make their properties more fire resilient.

Thomas Martin, a wildfire management consultant with Cabin Resources, says the province has been investing a lot of money in the Fire Smart Program, which educates homeowners on how they can make their yards and properties wildfire resilient, but it's not enforced.

"Some municipalities will give you a subsidy to perform the work, but it's all voluntary," he told CBC's Daybreak Kamloops on Monday.

"In El Dorado County, Calif., there's a regulation saying that homeowners have to manage the vegetation on their property."

He says such laws would make fire-proofing consistent and help slow the spread of fires should they reach communities. Last year, two people were killed, and most of Lytton was destroyed when a wildfire ripped through the village.

"In these catastrophic wildfire events, it very quickly becomes a home-to-home-to-home fire rather than a forest fire. The homes become a source of ignition, and they cause other homes to burn down," Martin said.

The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources did not address fire-proofing regulations for residential properties in an emailed response to the question from CBC News.

It said $90 million is being invested in community grants to help educate and encourage homeowners to protect their homes from fire — money that is part of $145 million in new funding this year to strengthen B.C.'s emergency management and wildfire services.

Ministry spokesperson Nigel McInnis said the province has several methods of mitigating fire risk, including prescribed burning, thinning, pruning and mechanical removal of vegetation.

Municipalities are already employing several methods to protect their communities from the threat of fire — some more traditional than others.

Wildfire-preventing goats?

In Merritt, for example, residents can now see goats munching on the vegetation on the hillside above Central Park.

Vahana Goats/Facebook
Vahana Goats/Facebook

The city partnered with the Vahana Nature Rehabilitation and its team of 144 goats to help reduce wildfire risk and combat invasive plants.

"We're reducing the amount of grass that will cure and dry and become like burnable substances," Cailey Chase with the rehabilitation centre told CBC News.

She said the goats, horses, and cows will be chowing down on the crested wheat grass, giant rye, and sagebrush, so there's less burnable substance when the vegetation dries up and dies over the summer.

"A goat eats a third of its weight per day," she said. "This new ancient technology has been used for thousands of years, ever since animals have been domesticated."

If livestock isn't an option for keeping your property clear of fire fuels, Fire Smart recommends the following:

  • Regularly mow and water grass within 10 metres around your home and other structures.

  • Prune evergreen tree branches two metres from the ground if they are within 30 metres of your home.

  • Remove all combustible materials (twigs, dry grass, logs and leaves) within 10 metres of your home.

  • Do not use bark or pine needle mulch around your home as they are highly flammable.

The B.C. Wildfire Service says with temperatures forecast to start picking up throughout B.C., the province's northwest and northeast, which have had drier, warmer temperatures than the rest of the province, are expected to face the most significant risk.

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