Looking out a glass door to a pile of firewood stacked on a deck.

SRD Carrying Out FireSmart Assessments On Cortes June 11-13

The Strathcona Regional District will be carrying out FireSmart assessments on Cortes Island between Tuesday, June 11, and Thursday June 13. This is a free evaluation of the exterior of your home and surrounding yard,  which usually takes about an hour.   

“I started doing home assessments across the Strathcona Regional District in January.  I have come to Cortes a few times to do public education and have tagged on some home assessments.  I was just there in May for emergency preparedness week, and through that we had quite a few requests to come back for home assessments,” explained Bonnie Logan, Wildfire Risk Reduction Coordinator with the SRD.

Smoldering wildfire – photo courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service via Flickr (Public Domain)

“Usually there’s only one wildfire risk reduction coordinator and that would be me, but I am eight and a half months pregnant. I’m  in that danger zone at that point where they like you to be close to a hospital. We hired Jeff as my maternity leave replacement. So Jeff will be coming over to Cortes  and he’s going to be doing free FireSmart home assessments.” 

 Cortes Currents: How did the assessments go in other communities?

Bonnie Logan: “There’s definitely some common trends that we do see, like  firewood stacked up against a home or under a deck because it’s nice dry storage, and most people are lacking sufficient storage. Wood decks are another one. Unfortunately, wood combustible,  there isn’t really a good answer. That is  the most common decking system. 

“We do have some suggestions on how to mitigate that. Again, it’s not a pass or fail. It’s not ‘all of these things need to be done right now!’ Some of these things are very small. There’s general housekeeping, like keeping your roof and gutters clean, mowing your lawn, raking some debris away from the home and then maybe moving that firewood pile in the summer when you’re not using your wood stove.”  

“Everybody really buys into the program because it’s not all or nothing. It’s a bit of a choose your own adventure.  Everything we’re talking about is scientifically backed.  These aren’t just  Bonnie Logan’s ideas, or Jeff Caring’s ideas, and they’re not just the Strathcona Regional District pushing this program. These are tried, true and tested; based on science and research. So once you start talking to people and pointing out some of these things, they say, ‘Oh, I never looked at that’ or ‘I never considered that.’  It’s a conversation with people and people realize that Rome wasn’t built in a day. So the feedback’s been really great, actually.” 

 Cortes Currents: How do you carry out an assessment?

Bonnie Logan: “We start with the roof and the structure, and then we work down and out.” 

“FireSmart has three zones.” 

“The immediate zone, which goes out about five feet, is going to be your roof. We’ll be looking at what type of materials on the outside of the house. What materials the house is built with, and then what materials surround the house. Something super common we see is  firewood stacked up right against the house, which can be a hazard in wildfire season.” 

“Moving outwards: we move into the intermediate zone and then the extended zone. We get a little bit more lenient about what can be in those zones.  Depending on how big your property is, you might not have that bigger zone. You might end up in your neighbour’s yard and at that point, you have no control over what your neighbour does.” 

“Nothing is a requirement, it’s just education and awareness for the homeowner. There’s no follow up.  We’re not going to come back a month later and finger wag at anybody and say, you didn’t do these things.” 

“Some of these things we’re talking about, like a roof, that’s a big ticket item to potentially replace.  It’s more about when that roof does need to be replaced, maybe we make a different choice if we have a combustible roof, like a cedar shake roof.” 

Jeff Caring added, “Most people think that it’s the big trees right close by that are the biggest hazard when really the biggest factor and what’s going to cause a house to burn down in a wildfire is how the embers will come into the structure and affect it . Where areas around the house for those embers can build up and start a fire on the house.”

Cortes Currents: What about an area that is sitting in a relative clear cut, but you’ve got trees that are 60 feet high, maybe 40 feet away.” 

Bonnie Logan: “FireSmart would like to see no or limited trees within 10 meters or 30 feet of  a structure . That’s fairly good if they’re 40 feet away but then we’re looking at that ‘extended zone.’  if there’s tree, tree, tree, tree, tree, think of them like dominoes in a line. We suggest taking out the odd tree just to break up that, we call it, ‘fuel continuity.’ Move those dominoes a little bit further apart.” 

“The other thing is not all trees are created equal. There’s  the good guys and the bad guys.  The bad guys being the coniferous tree : cedars,  spruce,  hemlocks, firs. They tend to have more oils and turpins and be more dry. They’re more volatile.” 

“If they’re all deciduous trees,  alders , maples and fruit trees – we want more of those trees.”

Cortes Currents: Is there anything either you would like to say  before we shut it down  floors open 

Bonnie Logan: “I’m just quickly looking at my list of things I wanted to chat about.”

 “We do have some spots still available. If those spots do all fill up, I’m gonna throw Jeff under the bus, he will come back to beautiful Cortes and do all the assessments.  No charge to the homeowner.  They’ll also receive a written report with the recommendations.”

“That being said, I know privacy can be a big concern for some people. The information is only available to the assessor and the homeowner.” 

“Generally, anything done with public funds is available under the Freedom of Information Act. But these assessments are not and that was something that was tried in a court case based on the Fort McMurray wildfires. Insurance companies tried to access the information and it was not made available.”

“So we do know that these files are secure and not available.” 

“Like I mentioned, I was there in May for emergency preparedness week. I did do some public education and I know that date and time didn’t work for everybody. So we are going to do a virtual session on June 27. That will be recorded and posted on the website as well. If people watch our social media and our website, the zoom link as well as the exact date and time will be posted on there.” 

Cortes Currents: You can add me to the list.  It’s actually more of a curiosity. I’m wondering if you’re going to find things I hadn’t thought about. 

Bonnie Logan: “You know what? It’s great when you’re like, ‘I already knew that. I’ve already been doing that.’ There’s lots of homeowners that are like, ‘Yeah, I’m already doing it. ‘ I don’t need you. I know all of this.’ That’s best case scenario.” 

Jeff Caring: “We can  share information with people out there who might not know anything about it yet. You can go on to FireSmart BC.ca and look up all the FireSmart guidelines and get a notion yourself of what FireSmart is about before anybody even comes over.  Learn about home assessments, and how the zones work. And then also for just general wildfire information and preparedness, a couple of apps out there for people to be able to look into over the summer months is, BC Wildfire, if they don’t Know where that app is. It gives all sorts of information throughout the summer that ‘BC Wildfire’ updates themselves. If you’re in an area where there are wildfires, they go through things with the alert,  evacuation alerts and orders.  Then also the SRD supports the alertable app, which can alert any of the residents in the SRD about potential emergencies that could happen around their area.” 

Top image credit: Firewood stacked against the wall – Photo by Rebecca Siegel via Flickr (CC BY 2.0 DEED)

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