With wildfire season already beginning, a near-record dry season and the COVID-19 pandemic occupying the time of first responders, Vancouver Island fire departments are encouraging residents to be fire smart.
Using guidelines from the country’s FireSmart program, Langford Fire Rescue, Colwood Fire Rescue and View Royal Fire Rescue have partnered together to educate community members about things they can do to protect their homes and surrounding areas from wildfire.
Last year, Langford alone saw roughly 100 fires in the area according to Langford Fire Rescue. Fire crews attended an “out of control” brush fire, caused by a worksite incident, as recently as April 21.
Capt. Simon Chadwick, who works in fire prevention with Langford Fire Rescue, said a province-wide event was to be held at the beginning of May to help educate people about what can be done to restrict the spread of wildfire. However, with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, they are looking at postponing the event to June.
In the meantime, Chadwick says this is the perfect time for residents to start protecting their homes from wildfire as people continue to isolate.
“We encourage residents of Langford, especially in high-risk areas like woodland and treed areas, to clean up around their home,” Chadwick said.
Residents are being asked to clear gutters and roofs of debris like leaves and nettle and also clear about a 10-metre distance around the home if possible.
Combustible items like foliage, debris, yard waste and boxes should be moved away from homes as well.
“A spark from a wildfire can travel up to one kilometre, if not more,” Chadwick said. “Usually, areas where debris collects is where the embers will collect.”
Chadwick said Langford Fire Rescue is looking at options to open a safe, physically distant program for residents to dispose of some yard waste in order to clear it away from their homes.
Those who smoke are also asked to dispose of cigarette butts responsibly and to avoid smoking on trails or in areas near brush. To assist residents in doing so, Langford Fire Rescue is giving away free pocket ashtrays.
Colwood has temporarily expanded its service to accept yard waste every Saturday beginning on April 25 and through the month of May. Capt. Scott Abrahamson, who also works in fire prevention with Colwood Fire Rescue, said residents are encouraged to dispose of their yard waste like wood, branches and leaves at the Colwood Branch Drop Off.
“We just don’t want to see a collection of yard debris close to the house,” Abrahamson said. “Any dry vegetation can become quite combustible.”
He said Colwood crews also responded to one small brush fire during the week of April 20. Abrahamson reminds residents that open burning is not permitted in Colwood and that fire department resources can be tied up if they have to respond to safety infractions.
If a wildfire is spotted, Chadwick says to not tackle it yourself and call 911 immediately. He also said it’s important to note that rainfall does not mean the area is safe from wildfires.
“Just because it rains for a few hours, that doesn’t mean everything’s safe,” Chadwick said. “A lot of these wildfires start deep underground and can sit there before they show.”
Abrahamson also noted that regardless of wildfire season, the No. 1 safety tip for residents is to have working smoke alarms and a fire extinguisher available.
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