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Tips to wildfire proof your home

More than 1,000 wildfires are burning across Canada, with two third of the fires burning out of control.

While there are no wildfires burning near the national capital region, the Ottawa Fire Service says it's important to be prepared in the event of a fire.

"Wild land fires or ground cover fires can spread through mostly two ways," Joe McLaughlin, Ottawa Fire Service District 8 Sector Chief, says.

"Radiant heat from a fire that is already going beside an object or a house or anything that is combustible, or through embers flying through the air."

McLaughlin says there are steps property owners can take to reduce the risk from wildfires or from flames spreading to neighbouring homes. He points to FireSmart Canada, which offers online and app-based prevention measures, as well as an assessment score card to help guide homeowners.

"Limiting that fuel load around the house is important," McLaughlin says.

"What we look for around a house is anything combustible, whether that be foliage, vegetation, or actual components of a building itself."

FireSmart breaks down a property into three zones, which extend up to 30 meters.

The immediate zone is a non-combustible area that starts at the house and extends to a 1.5-metre perimeter around the home, including attached structures and decks. To reduce the risk of windblown embers igniting your home, here are some steps:

  • Choose non-combustible building materials when constructing or renovating your home
  • Clear vegetation and combustible material down to soil and cover with gravel, brick or concrete
  • Avoid planting woody shrubs or trees and if any are present prune and maintain them regularly

The intermediate zone extends from 1.5 metres to 10 metres from your home and the elements within that area should be managed so they do not transmit fire to your home. Some of the actions to reduce your homes vulnerability include:

  • Plant fire resistant vegetation
  • Keep combustible items like firewood piles construction materials tools and decorative pieces out of this zone
  • Move trailers recreational vehicles storage sheds and other combustible structures outside of the zone 

In the extended zone, which is from 10 metres to 30 metres, the goal is not to eliminate the fire but reduce its intensity. If your property extends into this zone, there are some important steps you can take, including:

  • Selectively remove evergreen trees to create at least 3 metres of horizontal space between the single or grouped tree crowns
  • Remove all branches
  • Regularly clean up fallen branches, dry grass and needles to eliminate potential surface fuel

McLaughlin notes that vinyl siding on homes is an extremely common construction material and while it is flammable, if you are planning to renovate consider using brick or concrete to help limit the risk of fire.

"If your roof is in need of replacement, there are some non-combustible options that you can consider," McLaughlin says. "A metal roof or metal shingles are basically non-combustible completely. So should a tree close by or across the street catch fire and the wind picks up and starts getting embers blown at the house, the risk of fire on this particular type of roof is very low."

In a worst-case scenario, where an out-of-control forest fire moves towards a city or town, Ottawa Fire Service is ready for that too.

"We have five specialty units placed across the city from east to west and, of course, our south end as well," he says. "They carry specialized equipment and their vehicles can drive through the forest, they can do off-road capabilities, they also all carry covered trailers which also have specialty equipment within them and different PPE for our firefighters to wear, different tools for digging up ground different hose that can be deployed on foot instead of a truck."

Inside the home, it is imperative to have working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and alarms, and create an escape plan with at least two ways out. Top Stories

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