Creating Effective Wildfire Buffers
Creating Effective Wildfire Buffers in Rural Areas
Prince Edward Island is noted for its varied and beautiful landscape but homes, businesses and cottages built in or next to forested areas can be at serious risk during wildfire situations.
The best way to deal with wildfire situations is to understand the issues and take action now to reduce the potential impacts.
Understanding the Issues
Rural areas often have unique natural fire hazards not usually found in urban locations including:
- Large areas with tall dry grasses and other vegetation,
- Adjacent forest lands containing woody debris such as dead trees, twigs, dry leaves and needles,
- Narrow tree-lined access roads,
- Outdoor fuel storage facilities, and
- People using fire as a land management tool.
There are three zones where land owners can take effective actions to reduce fire hazards around their property. These zones extend out from the buildings as follows:
- 0 to 10 meters
- 10 to 30 meters
- 30 to 100 meters
Taking Effective Action in Each Zone
Fire Zone #1: 0 to 10 m
Reducing fire hazards immediately around your home should be your first priority.
- Remove household waste and replace materials such as old shingles, rotten decking and loose roofing.
- Mow the grass to keep it low to the ground and reduce the potential for fire to jump up onto shingles and siding.
- Store firewood piles or propane tanks at least 10 m away from buildings.
- Clean old leaves and needles from gutters and roof tops
- Properly dispose of waste materials - particularly waste oils, solvents and paints, and dried paper or cardboard.
Replace or upgrade wooden shingles, roofing and decking.
Fire Zone #2: 10 to 30 m
In the 10 – 30 meter zone, efforts should be directed toward identifying and managing potential fire hazards that may contribute to an increase in wildfire severity.
- Mow wide strips across fields or other grassed areas to prevent fire from jumping across to Zone #1.
- In forested areas, hardwoods such as maple and birch are considered to be fire resistant but during periods of drought and heat, some thought should be given to removing and composting excessive amounts of dry leaves
- Other forested areas may contain conifer stands of spruce and pine. Spruce trees often have dead branches reaching from the forest floor up to live branches in the crown. By removing the lower dead branches you can reduce the ability of a ground fire to use them as a ladder and reduce the possibility for a more serious Crown Fire.
- Pine needles can form deep beds of highly flammable material. Every few years you can rake the old needles into small piles and compost or burn them when fire conditions are suitable removing a significant fuel source. Please note that Burning Permits are required.
However, when conducting a controlled burn in a forested area remember that you are responsible for the fire and and any all costs related to fire damage and suppression.:
- Never leave the fire unattended
- Only burn a couple of small piles at a time
- Have shovels and water on hand before you start.
- Constantly check wind conditions
Normally, hardwood areas are considered to be natural fire resistant barriers. However, dry leaves and small branches can be a fire hazard, particularly in the fall or during periods of summer drought.
Fire Zone #3: 30 to 100 m from Primary Buildings
Issues in Fire Zone #3 are similar to those in Zone #2 but you can usually deal with them in a less intensive manner.
Maintaining short grass, burning or composting excess leaves, needles and branches, and removing branches that can ladder a fire from the forest floor to the crown will help to reduce fire hazards.
You can also plant hardwoods in the understory of conifer stands to diversify the site and reduce future fire risks. Care should be taken to select plant species that can grow well in forest shade and to protect the young trees from browse damage from mice and snowshoe hare.
Well maintained roads and lanes enable property owners to escape in times of wildfires and emergency vehicles and staff to access the site.
- Ensure your civic number is easily visible to emergency crews
- Road width should be adequate for your vehicle and for fight fighting equipment
- Bridges and culverts should be in good repair and capable of meeting load requirements
- Potholes and ruts should be properly filled and regularly maintained
- Garbage and flammable materials along the road should be removed and disposed of properly
- Dead branches and trees should be removed to allow for good lines of sight and to reduce potential fuel sources.
Finally, if possible it is always best to have more than one way in and out of a site. Adequate turn around areas should also be created and maintained.
Additional Resources for Property Owners
Fire Smart Canada has a number of resources property owners can use in wildfire planning and preparation.
Click the Manuals button on the Fire Smart Resources Library page and look for the following manuals and guides:
- Fire Smart Begins at Home Manual
- Fire Smart Home Development Guide
- Fire Smart Guide to Landscaping
- Fire Smart Home Assessment