How to protect your home from a forest fire

All predictions indicate we are in for a hot, dry summer. Now is the time to reduce the risk of fire.

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A forest fire raging though a stand of trees.

Sooner or later you may have to contend with a forest fire near your home. — Photo courtesy ellend1022/istock/thinkstock

Could a forest fire destroy your dream home?

Many in the Kootenays aspire to own a dream home in a stunning mountain location, surrounded by a pristine forest. However, a rural reality in the Kootenays is the threat of forest fire in the heat of summer.  

Think this will never happen? Or that that you live in a town, so you won’t be affected? The reality is that where there are forests, wildfires can happen. And wildfires can spread quickly and even encroach on cities.

In the right wind and forest conditions a wildfire can travel at alarming speeds. A grass fire can move at eight kilometres an hour and a forest fire can spread at five kilometres an hour. Drifting embers from a fire can travel up to two kilometres and start spot fires where they land.

Sooner or later you may have to contend with a forest fire near your home. 

How you can reduce the risk of forest fire damage to your home and yard

Homeowners should be aware of what they can do to protect their homes and yards so they can minimize the risks. 

“The area around their house that they can control either positivly or negatively,” said Mike Effray, owner of Strategic Fire Control in Cranbrook, “can affect how a fire that is approaching their home could have on their home.”

Effray recommended taking a look at the immediate area around your home to determine what the risks. Create a fuel free zone for 10 metres around your home. This means to give the fire as little as fuel as possible in the immediate vicinity of your home. All vegatation is flammable, so having your house surrounded by trees and shrubs is a threat when it comes to fire safety.

While Effray doesn’t suggest that you should rip out your shrubbery and cut down all your trees, he did mention that you can take steps to reach a balance. You can shake out the dead matter between your shrubs. You may have a hedge that looks green and vibrant, but has a lot of dead needles or leaves in the centre. By cleaning this out you can cut down on the fire risk.

Keep trees trimmed and spaced apart. Fires crown at around three metres, so try to keep that distance between trees. That way, “if a fire does come in contact with one of the trees, it is less likely to get to the next one.” said Effray.

Keep the undergrowth cleaned up and remove all dead brush or branches.  

Keep your wood pile and other flammable materials at least 10 metres away from your home.  It may be more convenient to keep the wood pile dry under the overhang of your roof, but it doesn’t help protect your home from a threat of a fire.

Keep your lawn well mowed and watered. A well watered lawn can act as a fire break.

Effray's last piece of advice is to take a look around your home for any potential fire hazards. Do whatever you can in advance of a wildfire to minimize or elimate the damage.  

Kimberly Shellborn

Kim is the editorial coordinator at Koocanusa Publications. She recently returned to the Kootenays after 15 years in Spain, where she taught English and got to know the food and wine regions of the country. When she’s not writing or taking photographs, she can be found showing her husband and two children all the backcountry trails that she longed for while in Europe. View all of Kimberly Shellborn’s articles

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