Wildfires are a natural part of forest ecosystems. They can renew a landscape with fresh nutrients and more diversity. However, as developments continue to extend into forested areas, we are further exposed to the dangers posed by wildfires near our homes. If you live in a forested area you need to be aware of the actions you can take to protect your home. Most home insurance policies cover fire damage, including damage from wildfires, but planning for the unknown may protect your biggest investment.
How Do Wildfires Spread?
Sparks and Embers
This is the burning debris that can be thrown up two kilometres ahead of a wildfire. Sparks and embers can ignite materials on or near your home causing severe damage.
Plants, leaves, twigs, wood piles and dried grasses are surface fuels.
Building materials that can fuel a wildfire include wood shakes, wood or vinyl siding and wooden fencing attached to homes.
Factors that Influence the Spread of a Wildfire
Dense, Continuous Forests
As sparks, embers, and intense heat travel towards a forest they begin to ignite trees. Wildfire can spread quickly in forests where trees are in close proximity to each other. Different trees also contribute to how quickly a fire spreads as well. Evergreens are highly flammable whereas deciduous (leafy) trees are significantly less flammable.
Fire moves faster uphill. The steeper the slope, the faster a fire will spread. Homes on hills or at the top of hills face the greatest risk of wildfire. If your home is located on a hill you should consider taking extra measures, such as removing trees adjacent to the slope, and planting fire-resistant plants.
Tips to Protect Your Home from Wildfire
While it’s not possible to eliminate the risk of your home being affected by wildfire, there are steps you can take to reduce the risk. Keep in mind these are preventative steps that must be done ahead of time and require ongoing maintenance. If there is an active wildfire you may not have time to implement these precautionary measures. Here are our top recommendations to help reduce the risk of wildfire to your home and neighbourhood, and help firefighters defend your home.
Decrease the Density of Trees
A wildfire moving from the tops of the trees can be slowed if the trees are spaced. Spacing trees at least 3 metres apart will help reduce the intensity of a wildfire. It can be further slowed by planting flame-resistant plants and shrubs in your yard.
Characteristics of fire-resistant plants:
- Moist, supple leaves
- Accumulates minimal dead vegetation
- Water-like sap with little odour
- Low amount or sap or resin material
Plants to avoid:
- Tall grass
Trees to plant:
Prune Lower Branches
A surface fire can climb trees quickly. Removing all tree branches within 2 metres off the ground will help stop surface fires from moving into the treetops. You can prune dead branches any time of the year, but it is best to prune evergreen trees in the late winter when they are dormant.
Remove Combustible Materials
50% of homes burned by wildfire are started due to embers and sparks. Eliminating small combustible material/debris is key to prevention.
Eliminate ‘surface fuels’ around your home as much as possible. Surface fuels include thing like plants, leaves, twigs, woodpiles and dried grasses that surround your home. Also remember to regularly remove debris from your gutters, as sparks and embers can easily ignite these dry materials. Consider screening your gutters with metal mesh to reduce the amount of debris that can accumulate.
Wooden fences create a direct path from the fire to your home. Separating your house from a wooden fence with a metal gate can slow the advance of a fire. Also, remember to cut the grass along your fence line as long dry grass easily ignites.
To stay up to date on all emergencies in Alberta or your specific region, go to the app store for your device and download the Alberta Emergency Alert app.
We also advise that ensuring your home and belongings are adequately covered by insurance before wildfire season, and that your policy is up to date. During natural disasters such as wildfires, insurance companies may place temporary restrictions on accepting new business making the instant purchase or upgrading of insurance more difficult.