Fueling Resiliency: Why simple and effective fire prevention programs aren’t reaching everyone

Click to play video: 'Wildfires in Canada: Banff offering sprinkler kits to property owners to help fireproof'
Wildfires in Canada: Banff offering sprinkler kits to property owners to help fireproof
WATCH: Wildfire concerns have hit an all-time high in Canada, causing the push to better protect homes in the future. With fireproofing a high priority, a pilot project in Banff, Alta., is now offering sprinklers to residents at risk – Jun 27, 2023

In the garden of a 118-year-old heritage home on Banff’s Beaver Street, members of the town’s fire department run a demonstration that is over in seconds.

A special hose is attached to the home’s outdoor faucet, then connected to a small sprinkler that is moments later mounted on the roof.

“That was so easy,” said the property manager, Lynne Huras. “Why have we thought of this before?”

The rooftop sprinklers are part of a new three-year pilot project in the Town of Banff. The first hundred homeowners that sign up for a Fire Smart property inspection each year for the next three years will receive the roof-mounted sprinkler kit at a heavily subsidized rate.

“The W.A.S.P. is the model we’re using. It can be easily mounted with a pole onto the eavestrough,” said Banff Fire Chief Russ Meyer.

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“It’s something that can be deployed quickly so that they may be evacuated. Fire crews can come around to the structure and all that’s required is to turn it on.”

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Wildfire risk could mean early tourism season

In strong winds, embers from a wildfire can travel several kilometres.

The roof-mounted sprinklers provide an additional layer of protection to keep homes in forest-adjacent communities from going up in flames.

“If we can try to get water on the roofs of these structures when the embers come in, then it’s already wet,” Meyer said.

The concept is simple, effective and inexpensive. It’s also a critically necessary adaptation strategy as Environment and Climate Change Canada scientists warn longer and more intense wildfire seasons are here to stay.

The question is, why aren’t more communities implementing these steps?

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“We need to do more,” said Tara McGee, a wildfire researcher at the University of Alberta. “Here in Alberta, we’ve developed the FireSmart program, which is now available across the country, but we need to do much more in terms of making sure that FireSmart is well-resourced and implemented within communities.”

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Created in the 1990s, FireSmart helps property owners and municipalities prevent loss from wildfire by implementing protection and mitigation techniques.

The program provides education on how to better design yards and gardens in ways that keep fires from quickly spreading out of control.

“There’s a lot of evidence both from the U.S. and here that shows FireSmart at the community level and property level can be very effective at reducing house loss and damage to the communities,” McGee said.

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Click to play video: '‘It’s time that we take charge and take ownership’: FireSmart Alberta'
‘It’s time that we take charge and take ownership’: FireSmart Alberta

FireSmart programs are operated independently in each province and territory with a federal arm operated by the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre.

In Alberta, the program relies on the participation of volunteer community fire departments.

“Quite often, the education engagement falls into the responsibility of our paid, on-call volunteer fire departments, so capacity is a tremendous barrier for them,” said Laura Stewart, a board member with FireSmart Alberta.

Stewart said the Alberta program has grown from five participating communities in 2015 to more than 40 today, but the program would like to reach many more.

“If we can manage and mitigate the fuel around a home, around a neighbourhood, around a community, then we can reduce the fire behaviour and make it more manageable for firefighters.”

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Click to play video: 'Experts urge Albertans to get FireSmart'
Experts urge Albertans to get FireSmart

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