NFPA Impact: February 2016
By Shayne Mintz
It’s that time of year again, when fire departments should start thinking about wildland fire awareness and Wildfire Community Preparedness Day.
I know it seems odd that a discussion about wildland fire should begin in the dead of the Canadian winter, but very quickly winter turns to spring, and spring to summer, and – if the proper conditions develop – in many places across Canada that means wildland fire season.
According to Natural Resources Canada, wildland fire consumes an average of 2.3 million hectares per year and causes millions of dollars in damage, not just to the forestry industry but also to residential and municipal properties. Wildfire responds quickly to fuels found in the forest, grasslands or backyards, and without proper mitigation and landscape management it will burn homes and any other vulnerable structures in its path.
Kelly Johnston, the executive director of Partners in Protection, said unless Canadian communities take action, the threat of wildfires will only become worse.
“Wildfires have always been a natural process in Canada’s forests,” Johnston said. “However, as we experienced in 2015, a changing climate, increasing large fire activity and increasing development trends create a serious threat throughout Canada – putting neighbourhoods, communities and firefighter safety at risk every year.”
Wildfire is a part of natural ecosystems, however, interface situations can occur in all but the most heavy urban environments. It is important that fire services and their communities recognize that wildfire isn’t just limited to municipalities with towns built within or nearby heavy or dense forests. Wildland interface exists in many more settings such as urban forests, municipal green spaces, farms and recreational areas such as cottage or camp communities. Any place where trees, tall grasses, crops or natural vegetation grow and shed annually should be considered as fuel load that when coupled with an ignition source from human or natural activity all contribute to a wildfire risk.
Wildfire management has traditionally been the purview of provincial ministries that work with Natural Resources Canada and co-ordinate with the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers. However, there is a growing expectation that municipal structural firefighters will be trained and prepared to respond to and extinguish wildland fires that may or may not impact homes and structures that belong to local taxpayers. There is a great opportunity here for local fire services to take the lead by participating in the second annual national Wildfire Community Preparedness Day on May 7.
The national Wildfire Community Preparedness Day program centres around the promotion of wildfire community protection awareness activities. This day is an excellent public-education opportunity for fire services to help community members recognize the hazards of wildfire; suggest ways they can mitigate or prevent wildfire from impacting their community; and teach them ways to minimize any damage done.
Partners in Protection Association (the non-profit organization behind FireSmart Canada), in partnership and support from the NFPA, the Co-operators Insurance Group, the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction and several provincial natural resources ministries have pooled together $23,000 to award communities that organize Wildfire Community Preparedness Day activities.
Beginning Jan. 25 through to March 12, anyone 19 years or older can apply for an award to conduct wildfire-preparedness activities or events. There will be a total of 20 nationally awarded and 14 provincially awarded $500 prizes available. Acceptable projects should focus on reducing the risk of wildfire in a community through education, hazard reduction or advanced-preparedness activities. Projects may include working with neighbours to clear leaves and other combustible debris from gutters of homes and buildings, raking leaves and combustible debris from under decks, moving woodpiles away from buildings, using a chipper service to dispose of slash or winterkill, or distributing wildfire-safety information. Groups of all sorts and individuals of all ages are encouraged to participate.
For those communities that may still have snow on the ground on May 7, it is the perfect chance to engage community members in pre-planning and public-education sessions for activities to take place when the snow is gone.
To learn more about Wildlife Community Preparedness Day in Canada and how to apply for funding, please visit www.firesmartcanada.ca, or feel free to contact me.
Shayne Mintz is the Canadian Regional Director for the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter at @ShayneMintz