Avoiding disaster by fire proofing your property

Years ago wild fires were a threat to all.

Years ago wild fires were a threat to all.

Advanced technology and well-trained fire departments, volunteers and paid workers, have left most people very complacent.

In Alberta, huge wild fires are a thing of the past. While the news shows wild fires out of control in other areas of the world that are hot and windy, most people do not consider it a problem locally.

Given the correct conditions, a large wild fire could destroy a local neighbourhood. There are preventative measures that can be done to the landscape to diminish the risks of fire.

Alberta Sustainable Recourse Development has published The Home Owners FireSmart Manual which covers all aspects of fireproofing the yard. Many of the suggestions in the booklet would leave the yard looking bare with little privacy. It is up to the individual homeowner to decide to what level they want to fire proof their yard.

Ideally, the fire department would like a 10 metre clear zone around the house.

Greenery in this area would consist of a mowed, green lawn, perennials and annuals.

Any trees or shrubs are within this area should be deciduous as they are more fire resistant than evergreens. Leaving the space between buildings and woody provides natural firebreak. This area also allows the fire department easy access to all parts of the building that is on fire.

The next priority zone is from 10 to 30 metres from the house.

For urban dwellers, part of this area is in the neighbour’s yard which is irrelevant.

It is recommended that rural landscapes have trees spaced to allow three to six metres between the tops of the trees. The large distance between trees will ensure that fire can not jump from one tree to another.

These same trees should have all bottom branches removed to a height of two metres. Lack of bottom growth ensures that a grass fire does not have an easy method to climb the tree and spread into the canopy.

Grass in this area must also be mowed short and kept green. It is time consuming to mow huge lawns but the alternative is long dry grass which is not acceptable from an aesthetic or a fire safety point of view.

The area outside this 30-metre area should be thinned, with all dead material removed. Removing all the tinder allows fires to be put out quickly.

There are simple, practical things that can be done to the house or landscape to make the area more resistant to wild fires.

Start by moving all fire wood away from buildings. While it is handy to have firewood by the back door, it will catch fire quickly helping to ignite the house.

Inclosing the area under decks and balconies will slow down the fire giving the fire department more time to contain and put the fire out.

Use rock, cement, metal or treated wood for hard landscaping like; decks, walks and fences.

When landscaping, choose plants that are fire-resistant. This includes most of the annuals and perennials that are hardy to region. With fire safety in mind, as opposed to winter colour, it is best to plant deciduous trees and shrubs as opposed to evergreens. For a more specific list look at www.enjoygardening.com

Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist and educator living in Rocky Mountain House. You can contact her at your_garden@hotmail.com