May 21, 2014 12:27 am

What’s being done to safeguard Alberta communities from wildfire, and what you can do to help

EDMONTON – It’s been three years since wildfires tore through Slave Lake, destroying hundreds of homes. Since then, the provincial government has looked at how to better protect communities surrounded by wooded areas, putting aside millions of dollars into a preventative program called FireSmart.

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Strathcona County is one of the communities across the province taking advantage of the program. Collingwood Cove, in particular, is one community that residents feel is high-risk.

“There’s one road in, and one road out, and anybody on this end of the community doesn’t have great access in the event of a fire,” said resident Linda Girard.

“There is [also] an abundance of dead and downed woody debris throughout the community,” said Lauren Stewart, a Community Safety Education Coordinator with Strathcona County.

Aside from soon clearing out those potential fire risks, officials say residents can also take certain steps to help protect their properties:

“Move your woodpile away from your house, it’s as simple as that,” said Geoffrey Driscoll, a Wildfire Information Officer with Alberta Environment.

“Make sure that your gutters are clean, that’s something you should be doing in the spring anyways. But it’s surprising how much that can actually reduce the risk of a wildfire coming over and taking your home.”

Other simple things you can do include:

  • Mow and water your grass around your home; remove all long grass, shrubs, logs, branches, twigs and needles within 10 metres of your home.
  • Contact your utility company if trees or branches are not clear of power lines on your property.
  • Prune branches from the base of your trees to reduce the chances of a fire running up the tree.
  • Always keep a watchful eye on fire pits and burn barrels when they are in use.
  • Plant fire resistant trees like aspen, birch or poplar instead of highly flammable varieties like spruce and pine.

So far this year, wildfires have damaged 631 hectares of land. At this time last year, more than 2,100 hectares had been destroyed.

With files from Tom Vernon, Global News

© Shaw Media, 2014

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