Since the wildfires that devastated properties in Special Areas in 2017, fire officials have learned that they, along with property owners and businesses could be doing a few things to prevent damage from fire, or at very least, lessen the damage potential should a fire occur.
The Special Areas Board recently hosted information sessions in several of their communities to help educate people on how they can best protect their properties.
"The reason we held the meetings was because following the Bindloss fire, we could see a lot of things that could be done to mitigate damage, things we could be doing better," said Special Areas fire chief, Glen Durand. Meetings held in Bindloss, Consort, Hanna, Oyen, and Youngstown were well attended as community members and producers shared a meal and took in presentations about grassfire safety and learned how to prepare for, respond to, and mitigate grassfire damage.
"We know we will never be able to stop all grassfires from happening, but we want to be better prepared for the next one. These community sessions were one way to share some of the lessons we learned after Bindloss, helping everyone be a little safer," said Owen Francis, director of emergency services, in a written statement.
The FireSmart program provides information for property owners, community leaders, and business and industry that can be applied to grassfires, as well as forest fires.
"FireSmart is primarily for forest fires, but a lot of the same principles apply to grassfires," said Durand. Farmers and ranchers can take proactive measures around their homesteads and in their fields and pastures to reduce the fire damage potential. FireSmart provides information on such activities as burning stubble and grass, windrows, burning piles, hay fields and pasture, feed storage, granaries, barns, and outbuilding, fence lines, and ditches, as well as information on emergency planning for livestock.
Vegetation management is another area where property owners can take proactive approaches to protect their homes and property. This includes the removal of fine fuels that pose a risk in grassy areas and the removal of debris (brush piles and construction debris).
FireSmart suggests site treatments such as tactical lines, pruning, mulching, and thinning, timber harvest, controlled fires, and grazing as part of the vegetation management strategy. When thinning of trees, the tree crowns should be at least three metres apart. The most critical area for vegetation management is 10 metres around structures. Removing trees or converting to less flammable species is also an option. Grassy areas need to be maintained annually. Buildings also need consideration, such as using roofing materials with a high resistance to fire like clay or concrete tiles or asphalt shingles. Siding material should be stucco, metal, brick, or other fire resistant material. Durand provided background information on how fire services are provided in Special Areas. Some common misconceptions were discussed, including whether Special Areas charges for fire suppression.
"Special Areas does not charge landowners for fire suppression; in fact, we want everyone to call 911 as quickly as possible if they need us," said Durand. He also discussed importance of getting critical information from the 911 calls to fire services and the importance of staying on the line with 911 if possible was also discussed as it allows the 911 centre to triangulate the location to assist with emergency services responding quicker and more efficiently.
Since the Bindloss fire burned over 90,000 acres last year, Special Areas has been developing simple, effective tools to help ratepayers prepare and respond to grassfires. Scott Vandermeer from VDM Fire Inc. and local fire services, put together information toolkits to help people become more prepared. The dangerous and unpredictable nature of grassfires was highlighted during his presentation.
"It's never just a grassfire," said Vandermeer. Maegan Chostner, communications officer for the Special Areas Board said additional material will be shared with the public on their website and on social media in the coming weeks. To learn more about grassfire safety information, or to obtain a copy of the Fire Safety toolkit and FireSmart material, contact your district office.