Campbell River, would your home withstand a wildfire?

Knowledge of home checklist is ‘real gap’ in emergency preparedness education

In the recent Strathcona Regional District (SRD) survey of household preparedness, one column of results stood out more than any other for protective services coordinator Shaun Koopman.

Only four per cent of residents in North Campbell River, five per cent of those in Central Campbell River and six per cent of Willow Point respondents answered “yes” to the question, “Have you evaluated the fire vulnerability of your property based on the FireSmart checklist?”

The number of respondents who answered yes to that question in Campbellton was zero.

But Koopman doesn’t think the public is just being irresponsible or lazy. He thinks he needs to do a better job of telling people exactly what that is so they’ll recognize its importance.

“The real gap in public education here is around getting people to know about and actually do the FireSmart checklist,” he says.

FireSmart (PDF) is a program of sorts designed to make people more aware of the hazards contained within the immediate vicinity of their home in terms of their applicability to the fire resistance of their home and property.

Basically, Koopman says, it’s about checking surroundings for things that could exacerbate a fire situation should one occur.

“Some of the recommendations, such as not having wood stacked up right next to your home or clearing the debris around your home are pretty straightforward,” he says – although he still sees a lot of it when he’s driving around town. “But before any actions take place – in order for that conversation to actually happen – you have to have the knowledge, and that’s where this program comes into place.”

Being FireSmart is about knowing how fires start, how fire spreads and what you can do to mitigate the damage to your own property – and the community.

And that starts within 10m of your home.

“Changes made to the area closest to your home and your home itself have the greatest impact on reducing the risk of wildfire damage,” the manual says.

And there’s data to back that up.

Koopman says in a physical survey of the area that burnt in Fort McMurray last year, 90 per cent of the surviving homes fit within the “low-moderate” FireSmart rating. 100 per cent of the homes that survived were rated “low.” In the “Country Residential” area surrounding the community itself, 80 per cent of the homes that survived fit within the “low-moderate” rating and about two-thirds of those that burnt were rated “extreme” in terms of the FireSmart categorization system.

While some of the actions that are recommended in FireSmart can be financially costly, Koopman admits – such as installing metal roofing or changing the material your home is sided with – many are free or very inexpensive.

Pruning your trees regularly and maintaining your yard, keeping it free of loose debris, relocating your wood pile if you use firewood for either a woodstove or backyard fire pit, cleaning your eaves, getters and vents regularly are all easy and inexpensive ways to drastically reduce your home’s vulnerability to fire. After all, it’s usually airborne embers landing on flammable material that cause fires within communities rather than the fire in the surrounding area entering town and wreaking havoc, according to noted wildfire expert, consultant and researcher at the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction, Alan Westhaver.

And it’s not just about your home, Koopman says, it’s also about the community as a whole. Every break in a fire line makes it more difficult for it to spread and easier for those battling it to get it under control.

And it’s not like it’s a huge endeavour just to do the checklist and see what kind of state your property is in – and that’s the first step.

“I think it took me about an hour and 15 minutes when I did it,” Koopman says, “and I had my four-year-old god-daughter with me so that probably added 20 minutes or so,” he says with a chuckle.

For more information on FireSmart and how to help keep your property – and the community safe – check out the links within this story or contact Koopman directly by email at SKoopman@strathconard.ca