Emma Schlosser: FireSmart Blog: FPAC 2021 Green Dream Internship Program

Emma Schlosser
August 31, 2021

Hello readers and fellow interns,

Today I will be talking about fire, one of the most devastating natural disasters in the forestry industry. Although fires are a natural occurrence, their very existence threatens communities and wildlife alike.

Whitecourt prides itself in being a FireSmart community, so in this blog I will share what Firesmarting is and how we can all help reduce the risk of fires. Additionally, I have interviewed a special guest, Whitecourt Fire Chief Brian Wynn, to share his knowledge on this topic.

What is firesmarting?

Chief Wynn described FireSmart asa program created with the intention to promote “fire prevention outside of the home.” There are multiple disciplines of FireSmart and when combined this leads to a much safer forestry environment. The disciplines are as follows:

●     Education of the public

●     Emergency planning: This section sets up how to approach emergency situations such as evacuations, this is essential to ensuring the safety of a community.

●     Vegetation management: This includes removing dead and down fuels in the forest as well as removing branches 6 feet from the ground and spacing out coniferous trees, so they are not touching.

●     Legislation

●     Development

●     Interagency Cooperation: Wynn described this as working with other departments and forestry to “communicate and work through barriers together” before a major FireSmart event.

●     Interagency training

What makes Whitecourt a FireSmart Community and Why is it important?

The Whitecourt Fire Department is committed to increasing the safety of the community. Due to Whitecourt’s location (smack in the middle of a forest), we are a high risk area for forest fires. The Whitecourt FireSmart program has treated over 200ha within the town limits and has done many education and training sessions. Fire prevention initiatives are not only important to help protect communities and infrastructure, but also to prevent diseases such as the pine beetle, which Wynn says can create a “huge hazard and extreme fire behaviour when not dealt with.” Lastly, what really makes Whitecourt FireSmart is that our fire department is committed to open communication and assistance for the community, as well as changing development and policies for the better.

What can homeowners, such as our readers, do to help prevent fires and FireSmart their homes?

Chief Wynn has done many home inspections with the fire department and has given me some insight on what exactly they look for. Wynn advises homeowners to download the “FireSmart Begins at Home” app and do a self assessment of your residence. This includes looking for vegetation that is within 1.5m of your home and ideally having a “10 foot perimeter” free from cedars around all structures to keep the flame away. Additionally, the team looks at construction of the residence, such as roofing material, siding, and windows. If you are looking into renovating or building a home, make sure to check out fire safe exterior practices. Finally, the team looks for a clean roof and eavestrough and the use of rocks/non-combustibles surrounding the structure, rather than mulch.

How does forestry contribute to fire safety?

Wynn says they encourage companies to harvest trees near communities because when this is done the “fuels are removed and the area is cleaned up.” When new vegetation is planted and the area is reclaimed, many of the fuels for fires are removed as well, such as old, overgrown trees, dead/fallen trees, or overgrown/dead vegetation.

Wynn also encourages other communities to assess the risk of a wild land fire. If it is possible for your community or residence to be in danger of a fire then “you need to get to work” and start implementing FireSmart practices. Furthermore, Wynn states that “climate change is creating more and worse wildfires,” and that now is the time to take action towards preventing forest fires. Fire is not something we, in the forestry sector, take lightly. I am so glad I have the platform to help spread this information and I hope all my readers have been able to take away some tips to implement FireSmart practices in their communities. As always, thank you for reading and stay tuned for my final blogs of the summer.

For more information contact:
Kerry Patterson-Baker
Vice President, Communications and Public Affairs
Follow FPAC on Twitter: @FPAC_APFC
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