Try to do your part to reduce the risk of fires. File photo

Check for those fire risks in your yard

We dug up some surprising things when we removed old needles and branches

I’ve talked with the region’s protective services coordinator Shaun Koopman several times in the past year about area initiatives to reduce wildfire risk in the community.

Typically, this includes steps residents can take to remove things around their property that can allow fires to start and spread quickly, especially during hot, dry summers.

Deep down, I’ve had this guilty feeling that I’m part of the problem. I think I confessed as much to Shaun, admitting that the property my girlfriend and I have is full of large evergreens and underneath are old needles and branches that have gathered over many years, decades probably.

We bought it two years ago, and the 1912 home and yard for the most part were kept in beautiful shape.

The owners put in a lot of time and effort into the place.

The situation under the trees along the highway though was a different story.

A friend once came over and fretted about needles in the driveway, but my concern was the old brush under all the trees.

The first summer came and went, with hot, dry conditions, and last year was the same.

We did nothing.

To be fair, we’ve had a few things to focus on like putting in some heat pumps so we didn’t freeze during the winter or replacing some old pipes.

This year though I knew we shouldn’t put it off any longer. We got a quote from a business, but it was outside of our price range, so we did it ourselves. OK, when I see “we” I mean mostly my girlfriend and the neighbours, as it happened during my weekend shift at the paper. (I did get out and clean up on one of the evenings and on the holiday Monday.)

This was no little raking job. We rented a bin, which we filled, in part because “we” trimmed a lot of the old, dead branches lower down, so that we wouldn’t have to do this again really soon.

The clean-up went beyond the branches too. In fact, the needles were a bigger concern than I’d thought. Not so much the loose ones in the driveway, but those in layers above the soil. I started digging down and much of it was at least 10 centimetres thick before I hit dirt. I can only imagine how easily that material would light up.

It turned into a bit of excavation job too. Our neighbour offered to clear the material with a Bobcat, so in preparation we pulled out any items that were not yard waste. Early exploration turned up oddities from discarded lumber ends to a bust of Beethoven to an old, rusty farm implement to some surprisingly clean granny panties, and once I started digging, I discovered a badly-rusted wagon or tractor wheel. Then another. And another. And so on.

Anyway, the area in front of our place is much tidier now, as the old branches, needles and other potential kindling are gone. I suppose there’s always a risk, especially in light of how many careless people there are when it comes to putting out campfires, properly extinguishing smoking materials and so on, but I at least feel I’ve taken some steps in the right direction to reduce the risk of fires starting and spreading among those evergreens – and to reduce those guilty feelings too.

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