Every fall, fire departments encourage people to replace the batteries in their fire detectors and make sure they are working.
In the summer, campers are asked to be careful when camping and to make sure the campfire is out. During times of dry weather, open fires are banned. All are good preventive methods to help the community as a whole.
But more can be done by the home owner.
According to Barry Shellian of Alberta Environmental and Sustainable Resources in Rocky Mountain House, there are many little things that homeowners can do to make their landscape a little safer and still be attractive.
The easiest is to keep 10 metres around buildings clear of combustible materials.
This doesn’t mean that the area around buildings should be bare, so start with the basics.
Keep the grass mowed and hydrated.
Weed whip around the buildings and fences, including the back alleys.
Rake away leaves, dead branches and dead needles.
At the present time they are damp, but they will become very dry and combustible when the weather warms.
Barry mentioned that fire could easily follow a line of dead material from the ditch up a lane to buildings.
If there is a smoker in the house, put out ashtrays. Fires have been started by putting a butt in a dry planter.
Other things that are easily done to help reduce the risk of fire are to remove all combustible material from around propane tanks: wood, dry grass, dead leaves, needles and branches.
Store firewood at least 10 metres away from buildings and campfires.
Backyard fire pits need to be far enough away from buildings and dry material so the sparks are not in danger of starting a fire.
When planning a landscape, choose deciduous plants as opposed to evergreens as foundation plantings.
Evergreens are more combustible than deciduous plants.
Prune regularly to remove all dead wood.
Prune back existing trees that hang over the roof. The trees can catch fire, providing an easy path to the roof.
Trees will also drop leaves and needles into the eves, making an ideal fire starter.
Urban homeowners have little if any control of land that is 10 to 30 metres from their house but it is a different story for farmers and acreage owners.
Fire management and settlement has diminished the number of wildfires in the last 100 years. As a result, many of the trees in the forests are old.
The trees are tall and close enough together to shade the ground, thus limiting the number and variety of plants that are part of the understory. In areas where the crowns or top of trees touch, the ground is covered with dead leaves, needles, deadfall and very little green growth.
Research has found that these areas can be rejuvenated without the hazards associated to wildfires by removing trees to allow approximately 2.5 metres between crowns allowing sunlight and moisture to reach the ground floor.
Within a couple of years, shrubs, grass and wild flowers emerge.
Conditions within the forest evolve, bringing in different or more wildlife.
Home owners can go one step further.
Once they have removed deadwood and thinned the trees, they can remove the bottom branches from the evergreens to a height of one to two metres.
If a fire were to start in an area where the bottom branches were removed, the chances are it would move quickly along the ground, consuming dried material on the way leaving the trees intact.
This type of pruning is not always esthetically pleasing and is less important for individual evergreens as opposed to large groups of evergreen trees.
It doesn’t take much to make the neighbourhood safer.
It is up to the homeowner to assess the fire hazard and act accordingly. For more information, go to firesmart.alberta.ca.
Linda Tomlinson is a local horticulturalist who lives near Rocky Mountain House. She can be reached at www.igardencanada.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.