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Expanding Our Roots

Are You and Your Community Firesmart?
Steve Bachop
Superintendent, Fire Prevention and Detection
BC Forest Service Protection Program

In the months following BC’s catastrophic 2003 fire season, public awareness related to interface fires reached an all time high.

Not surprising, given that we were bombarded for weeks on end by local, provincial, national and even international media stories on this subject. Fires, mass evacuations, and off-the-scale drought conditions were the lead story on almost every newscast - unprecedented coverage that dwarfed any previous events experienced in BC. Graphic images of entire subdivisions in flames, the selfless efforts of forest fire fighters and emergency response staff grinding through brutally long work days, and the truly heartbreaking testimonials of people personally impacted by the fires – those who’d lost everything – would surely change the way people who lived in interface areas would prepare in the future.

Well, at least that’s what we hoped.

Results from a Sept. 2006 IPSOS-Reid study commissioned by the BCFS Protection Branch that targeted 1000 people living within 1km of a forest or grassland areas in BC (excluding Vancouver and the Capital Region) has yielded some interesting, but alarming, results.

Only 54% of people who live in interface areas have actually done something to mitigate their risk associated with interface fires. This includes measures like pruning trees, removing dead trees/brush, moving flammable items (firewood, propane) away from structures, properly disposing of grass clippings, and using more fire resistant materials in construction etc.

The statistically significant survey revealed some other interesting facts:

  • Only 40% of the 1000 people questioned had heard of FireSmart, a program that provides basic and relatively inexpensive tips for homeowners to reduce wildfire risk to their houses and properties.
  • Only 14% of the people who had heard of FireSmart actually read the FireSmart Homeowners Manual.
  • 63% of those who had read the Homeowners Manual found the information useful and had taken prevention actions.
  • 45% of all respondents indicated they did not have house insurance that would cover losses associated with a wildfire.
  • 78% of respondents felt strongly that new housing developments should use FireSmart building materials on the exterior of homes in areas in close proximity to forests

Despite the skills and best efforts of dedicated structural fire departments and forest fire fighting crews, they can’t be expected to protect everyone. With increasing development and population growth it’s critical that all of us - including all levels of government, developers, planners, and homeowners- do their part to give fire fighting resources a chance when- not if-  the next major interface fire occurs.

The BC Forest Service Protection Program, Office of the Fire Commissioner, and Provincial Emergency Program continue to work together to raise the profile of the FireSmart program and encourage all British Columbians who live in rural interface areas to read the manual and take the necessary steps to reduce their risk to wildfire.

To view copies of the Homeowners "Firesmart" Manual or "Firesmart-Protecting Your Community from Wildfire" brochure or to learn more about fuel management, fire protection or find information about other fire-related topics, see the following websites: 

BCFS Protection Program:                 www.bcwildfire.ca
Office of the Fire Commissioner:      www.pssg.gov.bc.ca/firecom
Provincial Emergency Program:       www.pep.bc.ca

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