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Recent wildfires spark surge of Fire Smart assessments in Strathcona County

How does Fire Smart prevent risk to property?
WATCH: How can you protect your property from fire risk? Inspectors in Strathcona County are going door to door to offer tips. Gordon George explains how.

Strathcona County is doing about twice as many Fire Smart evaluations as it has in previous years and officials say the uptick is likely connected to recent wildfires.

READ MORE: Alberta fire season: latest status of wildfires and number of fire bans

Fire Smart inspections entail crews going to homes to examine things like where trees are planted, how long the grass is and what kind of building material is used.

Strathcona County isn’t waiting for homeowners to call them. Officials have ranked the county’s 200 subdivisions from most to least in need of Fire Smart upgrades and fire crews are knocking on doors in each of those subdivisions.

Since 2014, they have evaluated about 1,000 properties. Lately, they’ve found more and more people asking for their help.

“After the Fort McMurray wildfire, we definitely saw an uptake of interest and concern from residents,” said Gord George, who looks after the Fire Smart program for Strathcona County Emergency Services.

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In Strathcona County, the fire service is hoping to help prevent wildfires by visiting thousands of properties to help make them safer. Fletcher Kent has more on the hands-on approach.

Wildfires spark surge of Fire Smart assessments in Strathcona County
Wildfires spark surge of Fire Smart assessments in Strathcona County

This year, the county also fought multiple grass fires that threatened homes and industry.

READ MORE: 2 wildfires northeast of Edmonton being held

Typically, about a quarter of the homeowners approached by Fire Smart crews schedule an evaluation. This year, about half are doing so. George Percy is one of them.

“This is the time of year we cringe,” he said. “It becomes our month of hell.”

Percy has lived on his hobby farm near Bruderheim for the past 38 years.

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Watch below: The Global 1 helicopter captured this raw footage of the grass fires burning on either side of Bruderheim on Saturday, May 12, 2018.

Global 1 aerial footage of fires near Bruderheim
Global 1 aerial footage of fires near Bruderheim

Earlier this month, one of the wildfires in the county forced him to flee his home. It burned trees that stood a few hundred metres from his farmhouse.

An aerial view of George Percy’s farm. A recent wildfire burned right up to the edge of his property.
An aerial view of George Percy’s farm. A recent wildfire burned right up to the edge of his property. Strathcona County Emergency Services

In 2009, a different fire came even closer. It destroyed his barn and all of his outbuildings.

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READ MORE: Campers describe harrowing escape from Alberta wildfire: ‘I was hysterical. I didn’t know where he was’

When Strathcona County approached him about a Fire Smart evaluation, he jumped at the chance.

“After being burned once literally, we’re twice smart,” he said.

“They have to pay attention to that kind of stuff. I don’t know if it’s as bad elsewhere in the province as it is here but it’s a thing that you don’t get a second take at.”

During his inspection, Percy learned his new barn is at risk. It’s made of wood and the grass around it is long. Evaluators also had concerns about where he kept his firewood and how close some dead bedding plants were to the home.

READ MORE: Alberta to boost spending on program to help protect communities from wildfires

Much of what inspectors say is common sense, in retrospect. Percy appreciates it. He’d rather have someone like George point out what he needs to happen than allow fire to highlight the mistakes.

“Living in the forest is a lifetime of labour but [this is] really focused on those little things, where embers accumulate,” George said.
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Strathcona County Emergency Services has now completed about 50 community assessments. There are approximately 200 subdivisions in the county.