The Seven FireSmart Disciplines
The FireSmart program helps reduce wildfire risks to homes, neighbourhoods, critical infrastructure, and vital natural resources. This is a shared responsibility between us all. Individuals, communities, governments, and private sector organizations all have a part to play.
The FireSmart program is implemented through seven disciplines to help neighbourhoods address the threat of wildfire: education, emergency planning, vegetation management, legislation, development, interagency cooperation, and cross training.
FireSmart neighbourhoods all have one thing in common: an organized group of passionate and educated residents, bolstered by their local government, driving positive change.
The whole process starts with a neighbourhood, or a group, or an individual, taking an interest in learning more about the threat of wildfire and how that threat can be mitigated. The grassroots implementation of FireSmart by empowered members of the public often results in the most robust neighbourhood programs.
Through online and printed resources available from FireSmart Canada, education can be promoted and shared within a neighbourhood and neighbourhood, raising further interest and awareness among more residents.
Neighbours talk, friends talk, people share information that is important to them and FireSmart is no different. Phone calls and face to face conversations from residents and professionals can have a more meaningful and lasting effect on people.
There are two ways of approaching the planning discipline: the creation of wildfire prevention and mitigation specific plans, and accounting for wildfire in existing emergency response and neighbourhood preparedness.
When multiple agencies join forces to respond to an emergency, the process can be complex.
Addressing interface characteristics and response strategies will help you to prepare for wildfire. Evacuations, response and recovery from a wildfire should be considered in your emergency plans.
Vegetation management, broadly speaking, is the augmentation of wildland fuels (vegetation that can contribute to wildfire is known simply as ‘fuel’) for the purpose of mitigating the potential intensities and impact of wildfire. Intuitively vegetation management as a strategy for reducing wildfire hazard makes sense: wildfire requires fuel, in the form of vegetation, to burn; if we can augment the fuel, we can augment the wildfire.
Projects can serve many different purposes: they can reduce wildfire intensity, severity and rate of spread, they can provide a strategic tool for incident management teams responding to wildfires near neighbourhoods and they can also additionally provide areas within a neighbourhood to promote education around wildfire and the principles of FireSmart.
Fuel treatments can be moderate or intensive depending on the intended objectives of a government agency, neighbourhood or homeowner implementing them.
In general, vegetation management can be carried out in three different ways: fuel removal, fuel reduction and fuel conversion. All fuel treatments will generally incorporate some combination of these three methodologies. Fuel treatments may also range from many hectares in size to specific trees and ground debris, depending on the objectives and scale of the project.
Fuel Removal – flammable vegetation is removed. For example removing mature spruce trees adjacent to ones home.
Fuel Reduction – flammable vegetation is lessened. Examples pruning, thinning, mowing, grazing, mulching, hazard reduction burning or pile burning.
Species Conversion – removal of flammable species and replace with less flammable species. Example is replacing conifers with deciduous species.
Reducing, removing and converting combustible vegetation within the home ignition zone on our private properties is critically important.
More than 90% of homes damaged or destroyed by wildfires are ignited by embers. Maintaining a 1.5 metre non-combustible surface around your entire home will reduce the chance of wind-blown embers igniting materials near your home.
Post-fire studies, experiments and models have shown that homes ignite due to the condition of the structure and everything around it, up to 100 metres from the foundation. Legislation, bylaws, plans, policies and development standards all play a significant role in building and maintaining FireSmart neighbourhoods. Consideration of wildfire at the development planning stage is a key step in protecting neighbourhoods from wildfire.
There are many ways to integrate FireSmart principles into planning and development in a neighbourhood. Each neighbourhood must determine what mechanisms are most appropriate for achieving their FireSmart goals. Determining which mechanism will be most effective is at the discretion of local staff.
As neighbourhoods extend further into forested areas, homes and neighbourhoods are becoming more exposed to ignition from wildfire. A structure is more likely to be destroyed in a wildfire when it is located in a high-density area where homes can ignite and fire is able to easily transfer from building to building.
Development standards play a significant role in reducing the potential impact a wildfire may ultimately have on a neighbourhood. The potential for damage intensifies when flammable building materials are used.
A successful neighbourhood FireSmart program requires engagement and strong partnerships. Elected officials, neighbourhood planners, developers, government, industry and residents all have an important role to play.
Public education is one of the most challenging components of creating a FireSmart neighbourhood as many residents do not understand the local threat from wildfire and assume emergency services will be able to protect the neighbourhood during a wildland urban interface wildfire (WUI) event.
The practice of FireSmart deals with complex problems that require a collaborative approach to solve. The ongoing education of all stakeholders is critical to ensure informed decisions are being made. An educated group of stakeholders will help to build support for the adoption of FireSmart principles, which can be costly and time consuming. Transparency during the neighbourhood FireSmart planning process can also go a long way in increasing interest and knowledge of the general public; and a greater overall understanding of FireSmart principles will ultimately improve efficiency of implementing mitigative strategies.
Wildfires do not respect jurisdictional boundaries and can move from forested lands into neighbourhoods and from neighbourhoods into forested lands. In many cases, wildland urban interface (WUI) events require the response of many different emergency response organizations. In order for response to be efficient, safe and organized, planning and training must be completed ahead of time, training cannot be effective when done in isolation.
Cross-training aims to bring emergency response organizations together for the purpose of identifying potential weaknesses and gaps in response efforts prior to an actual emergency.
Training can also be completed to familiarize organizations with the equipment, procedures and strategies of other agencies which may potentially be involved in a wildfire emergency. The overall all goal is to reduce any required on-the-job learning that might occur during an emergency.