Com­mu­nity grass­fire info meet­ings pro­vide tips for prop­erty own­ers

Prairie Post (East Edition) - - Alberta - BY JAMIE RIEGER _ jrieger@prairiepos­

Since the wild­fires that dev­as­tated prop­er­ties in Spe­cial Areas in 2017, fire of­fi­cials have learned that they, along with prop­erty own­ers and busi­nesses could be do­ing a few things to pre­vent dam­age from fire, or at very least, lessen the dam­age po­ten­tial should a fire oc­cur.

The Spe­cial Areas Board re­cently hosted in­for­ma­tion ses­sions in sev­eral of their com­mu­ni­ties to help ed­u­cate peo­ple on how they can best pro­tect their prop­er­ties.

"The rea­son we held the meet­ings was be­cause fol­low­ing the Bind­loss fire, we could see a lot of things that could be done to mit­i­gate dam­age, things we could be do­ing bet­ter," said Spe­cial Areas fire chief, Glen Du­rand.

Meet­ings held in Bind­loss, Con­sort, Hanna, Oyen, and Youngstown were well at­tended as com­mu­nity mem­bers and pro­duc­ers shared a meal and took in pre­sen­ta­tions about grass­fire safety and learned how to pre­pare for, re­spond to, and mit­i­gate grass­fire dam­age.

"We know we will never be able to stop all grass­fires from hap­pen­ing, but we want to be bet­ter pre­pared for the next one. These com­mu­nity ses­sions were one way to share some of the lessons we learned af­ter Bind­loss, help­ing ev­ery­one be a lit­tle safer," said Owen Fran­cis, direc­tor of emer­gency ser­vices, in a writ­ten state­ment.

The FireS­mart pro­gram pro­vides in­for­ma­tion for prop­erty own­ers, com­mu­nity lead­ers, and busi­ness and in­dus­try that can be ap­plied to grass­fires, as well as for­est fires.

"FireS­mart is pri­mar­ily for for­est fires, but a lot of the same prin­ci­ples ap­ply to grass­fires," said Du­rand.

Farm­ers and ranch­ers can take proac­tive mea­sures around their home­steads and in their fields and pas­tures to re­duce the fire dam­age po­ten­tial. FireS­mart pro­vides in­for­ma­tion on such ac­tiv­i­ties as burn­ing stub­ble and grass, windrows, burn­ing piles, hay fields and pas­ture, feed stor­age, gra­naries, barns, and out­build­ing, fence lines, and ditches, as well as in­for­ma­tion on emer­gency plan­ning for live­stock.

Vege­ta­tion man­age­ment is an­other area where prop­erty own­ers can take proac­tive ap­proaches to pro­tect their homes and prop­erty. This in­cludes the re­moval of fine fu­els that pose a risk in grassy areas and the re­moval of de­bris (brush piles and con­struc­tion de­bris).

FireS­mart sug­gests site treat­ments such as tac­ti­cal lines, prun­ing, mulching, and thin­ning, tim­ber har­vest, con­trolled fires, and graz­ing as part of the vege­ta­tion man­age­ment strat­egy.

When thin­ning of trees, the tree crowns should be at least three me­tres apart. The most crit­i­cal area for vege­ta­tion man­age­ment is 10 me­tres around struc­tures.

Re­mov­ing trees or con­vert­ing to less flammable species is also an op­tion.

Grassy areas need to be main­tained an­nu­ally.

Build­ings also need con­sid­er­a­tion, such as us­ing roof­ing ma­te­ri­als with a high re­sis­tance to fire like clay or con­crete tiles or as­phalt shin­gles. Sid­ing ma­te­rial should be stucco, metal, brick, or other fire re­sis­tant ma­te­rial.

Du­rand pro­vided back­ground in­for­ma­tion on how fire ser­vices are pro­vided in Spe­cial Areas.

Some com­mon mis­con­cep­tions were dis­cussed, in­clud­ing whether Spe­cial Areas charges for fire sup­pres­sion.

"Spe­cial Areas does not charge landown­ers for fire sup­pres­sion; in fact, we want ev­ery­one to call 911 as quickly as pos­si­ble if they need us," said Du­rand.

He also dis­cussed im­por­tance of get­ting crit­i­cal in­for­ma­tion from the 911 calls to fire ser­vices and the im­por­tance of stay­ing on the line with 911 if pos­si­ble was also dis­cussed as it al­lows the 911 cen­tre to tri­an­gu­late the lo­ca­tion to as­sist with emer­gency ser­vices re­spond­ing quicker and more ef­fi­ciently. Since the Bind­loss fire burned over 90,000 acres last year, Spe­cial Areas has been de­vel­op­ing sim­ple, ef­fec­tive tools to help ratepay­ers pre­pare and re­spond to grass­fires.

Scott Van­der­meer from VDM Fire Inc. and lo­cal fire ser­vices, put to­gether in­for­ma­tion tool­kits to help peo­ple be­come more pre­pared.

The dan­ger­ous and un­pre­dictable na­ture of grass­fires was high­lighted dur­ing his pre­sen­ta­tion.

"It's never just a grass­fire," said Van­der­meer.

Mae­gan Chost­ner, com­mu­ni­ca­tions of­fi­cer for the Spe­cial Areas Board said ad­di­tional ma­te­rial will be shared with the pub­lic on their web­site and on so­cial me­dia in the com­ing weeks.

To learn more about grass­fire safety in­for­ma­tion, or to ob­tain a copy of the Fire Safety tool­kit and FireS­mart ma­te­rial, con­tact your dis­trict of­fice.

Pho­tos contribute­d

VALUABLE IN­FOR­MA­TION: In­for­ma­tion meet­ings held re­cently in com­mu­ni­ties in Spe­cial Areas pro­vided valuable in­for­ma­tion about fire pre­ven­tion and mit­i­ga­tion. Meet­ings were held in Bind­loss (pic­tured above), Con­sort, Hanna, Oyen, and Youngstown.

LOTS TO DISCUSS: Peo­ple gath­ered for a chitchat at the FireS­mart meet­ing in Oyen.

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