Sundre needs to become more 'FireSmart', says fire chief
Sundre needs to be a safer community when it comes to wildland urban interface fire protection, fire chief Marty Butts told Sundre town council last week.
Wildland urban interface fires are blazes that involve homes and other structures being threatened by fires started in brush, tall grass and wooded areas close to built-up areas.
Sundre needs to be brought up to provincial FireSmart program standards so that residents don’t face the danger of wildfires spreading from the town’s wooded boundaries into town itself, he told councillors.
There are numerous areas in Sundre that are currently “hugely vulnerable” to wildland fires, including the long row of houses on 2nd Street N.E. along the bank overlooking the Red Deer River, he said.
“If we had a wildland fire run through there and the winds came up, it is going to feed the fire right into those houses, and we’d lose all of that,” said Butts. “For an example, that’s a bad spot that needs the debris cleaned up and logs picked up and all the burnables.
“There are lots of big cul-de-sacs (in town) that are right along tree lines, so that is an interface close to the woodlands. We want to get the people who live in these areas educated to see what could really happen, using Slave Lake as an example.”
Millions of dollars in damage was done when wildland urban interface fires ripped into the town of Slave Lake in 2011.
The Sundre fire department is prepared to work with the Town of Sundre and town residents, businesses and others to make necessary changes, he said.
“I want the town to buy in on FireSmart,” he said. “Lots of communities are doing it since they’ve seen the Slave Lake incident. Some towns have already committed. It is a long process. It will take years to get our town to a proper status of where we want it.”
The Sundre department would also like to increase training aimed specifically at fighting wildland fires, he said.
“We want to work with Sustainable Resource Development to get some more training for our guys so we can do proper controlled burns and have the proper training and knowledge to do that safely,” he said.
“We want to get the knowledge from the forestry guys, who are the experts, and put that knowledge in our department because we live in the interface area.”
Following Butts’ presentation, town councillors instructed administration to find out what grants, if any, may be available to fund FireSmart work and firefighter wildland interface fire training.
“The town is going to start tracking down grants,” he said.
All stakeholders in rural communities can be involved in making towns safe from wildfire, say FireSmart program officials.
“Through partnerships, you can achieve your goals in a more effective and timely manner. For example, your neighbour, community association, local industries, local municipal government, municipal fire department, local advisory committees and local forestry personnel can all be involved.”
The FireSmart manual identifies seven main things that can be done to reduce wildland urban interface fire risks:
1. Fuel management - Manage the vegetation in and around properties to lessen the risk of wildfire. This can be accomplished by thinning and pruning, removing volatile trees such as spruce and planting fire-resistant species such as aspen, the construction of fuel breaks, general cleanup in and around homes, public and business properties.
2. Education - Effectively communicate to people living in forested areas the need to be aware of the wildfire threat and to take action to have their properties made "FireSmart."
3. Legislation - Review the existing legislation both provincially and within the local municipal government.
4. Development - Are new homes or subdivisions being developed in a "FireSmart" manner? That can be done by assessing the infrastructure as it relates to roadway access, water supply, utilities placement, building materials and design, and forested areas adjacent to and within the community.
5. Planning - Emergency procedures and response should be put in place to meet the threat from a wildfire scenario. This preparedness occurs at all levels, from the homeowner to the fire agencies involved.
6. Training - Cross-training between municipal fire departments and the wildland fire agency such as Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development to ensure that the equipment, communications and training courses are compatible.
7. Interagency cooperation - Bring together all of the agencies that can be involved with the scenario of combating a wildfire in the interface area. Putting in place cooperative agreements, partnerships and initiatives, linking emergency plans and assigned commitments and responsibilities can do that.
The FireSmart program advises homeowners to ask the following safety questions about their properties:
1. Are evergreen trees thinned and pruned and is brush removed at least 10 to 30 metres from around buildings?
2. Are tree branches pruned one to two metres above ground to prevent surface fires from spreading to treetops?
3. Are grass and weeds mowed for 10 metres around the house?
Is the yard free from leaves and debris?
4. Are street, lot number and name signs clearly visible from the road?
5. Is your driveway wide enough for emergency vehicle access?
6. Is the spark arrester or screen on the chimney or stovepipe adequate? Do you check and clean the chimney or stovepipe on a regular basis?
7. Are roof and gutters free of leaves, twigs and other debris?
8. Is firewood stacked a minimum of 10 metres from the house?
9. Is there adequate exterior water supply for emergency use?
10. Do you have a garden hose, ladder and firefighting tools within easy reach?
11. Are outdoor firepits or rings situated in a cleared area and all overhanging vegetation cut away?
12. Do you have an area in which chainsaws and small engines can be refuelled safely?
13. Do you have fire extinguishers, 10 pounds or heavier, readily available?
14. Do you have a screened receptacle for disposing of debris?
Did you check local burning regulations to determine if a fire permit is required? Do you haul debris to a refuse site?
15. Do you have a contingency plan in the event of a fire? Does your family know the escape routes, who to call and what to do?
More information on the FireSmart program can be found at www.srd.alberta.ca/Wildfire/FireSmart.