FireSmart is a concept that has been around for a number of years. But its flame was rekindled as a result of the wild fires that destroyed much of Slave Lake in 2011 and parts of the mountain areas around Kelowna a few years earlier.
It has also been used to protect other areas. The goal is to be proactive by removing unnecessary combustibles in and around buildings.
In areas where the danger of a wild fire is high, such as Nordegg, safe practices are built into the building code to protect homeowners. In other areas, small pods or neighbourhoods are encouraged to come together to become a FireSmart neighborhood.
Fire stations even in the largest areas, can deal with up to four building fires at any given time. Once all the men and equipment are engaged in fighting fire there are little resources left over to protect the rest of the area. Removing combustibles from the buildings and surrounding areas goes a long way in ensuring the community is safe.
These are a number of very basic things that can be done to make the buildings safer. Start by cleaning the dried leaves, twigs, dirt and needles out of the eaves and moving the firewood away from buildings.
FireSmart landscaping is slightly different than conventional landscaping practices. Conventional landscaping practices call for foundation plantings around buildings.
FireSmart yards have grass or rock surrounding the building for approximately 10 metres.
Foundation plantings draw the eye towards the house, enhancing it by hiding the transition between the basement and upper floors while softening corner lines.
A compromise can be had by not planting coniferous plant material close to buildings as they burn quickly and linear plants can provide a path upwards towards the eaves and roof.
Instead, choose foundation plantings of deciduous shrubs, perennials and annuals. Deciduous shrubs that are planted anywhere in the yard should be pruned yearly to remove all the dead wood and thin out the centre, to allow the plant to put up new growth.
Perennials need to have the old top growth removed in the fall as the plant turns brown. Annuals should be removed each fall after the first hard frost.
Removing all dead and dry material will hinder fire.
To avoid ground or grass fires moving upwards, FireSmart suggests that the bottom two metres of a tree be devoid of branches. Trimming bottom branches is a personal choice.
For those who wish to retain the bottom branches, place the plants further from buildings and place them as individual plants as opposed to mass plantings.
Rural dwellers would benefit from removing dead wood from the bush around the buildings. In areas where the trees are crowded, remove either the very old or some of the young seedlings. This will open up the area, allowing the sun to penetrate.
That in turn will encourage the growth of grasses, shrubs and native understory plants.
Green plants burn much slower than dry ones.
Before burning excess deadwood, check with the municipality to comply with their regulations.
It is up to each homeowner and neighborhood to determine how their area would fare in a fire. For a checklist, visit www.firesmartcanada.ca or www.srd.alberta.ca/Wildfire/FireSmartTips.aspx.
Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist who lives near Rocky Mountain House. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.