With hot, dry, and windy weather becoming the norm for BC summers, wildfires are becoming a regular occurrence in the Okanagan Valley.

According to the BC Wildfire Service, 71% of wildfires in 2023 were lightning caused, while 26% were human caused.

While we can’t control what happens to the weather, we can control what happens on our properties prior to wildfire season in BC – which is typically from June to late August.

At Step Above Inspections, we believe in taking a proactive stance towards wildfire preparation.

To help you do your best to protect your home and minimize the spread of wildfire throughout your community, this blog shows you some of the most effective wildfire preparation measures you can take at home.

From cleaning up combustible fuels to implementing a ‘FireSmart’ landscape design and using fire-resistant building materials, read on to learn how to protect your house from a wildfire in BC, Canada.

The Greatest Threats To Homes During a Wildfire

When a fire enters a community, it stops being a forest fire and switches to consuming “urban fuels.”

The greatest threats to residential structures come in the form of embers, small flames, and radiant heat. Clearing your property of flammable materials is key.

To show you the best actions to take to minimize fire hazards within 30 meters of your home or structure, FireSmart Canada and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) have developed the concept of the Home Ignition Zone.

FireSmart Canada Home Ignition Zone graphic.

Remove Fire Hazards From Your Home Ignition Zone

The Home Ignition Zone (HIZ) is defined as the area within 30 meters of your home and structures, which is divided into 3 priority zones:

  • the Immediate Zone (0 to 1.5 meters)
  • the Intermediate Zone (1.5 to 10 meters)
  • the Extended Zone (10 to 30 meters)

Immediate Zone: 0 – 1.5 metres

The Immediate Zone is a non-combustible area that starts at the house and extends to 1.5m perimeter around the home and attached structures, including decks. To provide firefighters with a safer area to combat the fire, this crucial buffer should be free of materials that could easily ignite from a wildfire.

  • Regularly clear debris from your gutters, roof, and attic vents. Dry leaves and pine needles can accumulate and become fuel for fires. Clear leaves and other debris from gutters, eaves, porches and decks. Consider adding a mesh screen to reduce the amount of debris that accumulates in your gutters.
  • Replace or repair shingles and roof tiles that are missing, loose, or damaged.
  • Choose non-combustible building materials when constructing or renovating your home. Untreated wood and vinyl offer minimal protection against wildfires.
  • Install 1/8″ metal mesh screening over vents in the eaves to shield embers.
  • Clear vegetation and combustible material down to mineral soil and cover with non-combustible materials like gravel, brick, or concrete.
  • Remove dead vegetation and other items from under your deck or porch, and within 10 feet of the house.
  • Remove flammable items close to the home like planters, hanging baskets, rakes, or shovels.
  • Avoid planting woody shrubs or trees. If any trees like cedars, pine, spruce, and juniper are present, prune and maintain them regularly.
  • Maintain non-combustible ground surface: Ensure that the ground within 1½ meters of your home is made of non-combustible materials such as gravel, brick, concrete, or rocks.

If it can catch fire, don’t let it touch your house, deck or porch.

Intermediate Zone: 1.5 – 10 metres

Manage elements in the Intermediate Zone so they don’t transmit fire to your home.

  • Plant fire-resistant vegetation and select non-combustible landscaping materials. Avoid woody shrubs or move them to the Extended Zone.
  • Avoid incorporating woody debris like bark mulchinto landscaping designs. Instead, use gravel or rock.
  • Create a non-combustible ground cover, like a gravel pad, underneath and 1.5 metres around trailers, recreational vehicles, and sheds.
  • Create fuel breaks with hardscaping, walkways, driveways, and decks.
  • Move combustible items like firewood piles, propane tanks, trailers, construction materials, patio furniture, tools, and decorative pieces into the Extended Zone.
  • Clear vegetation away from stationary propane tanks.
  • Store firewood inside your mitigated garage, shed, or other ember resistant structure.
  • Mow your lawn and grasses to a height of 10cm or less.
  • Remove ladder fuels from beneath trees. Ladder fuels refer to smaller trees and brush that allow a fire to continue vertically, ascending from ground level to the branches and crowns of larger trees.
    • Prune large trees up to 6 to 10 feet (2 to 3 meters) from ground level.
    • Prune shorter trees up to 1/3 of their total height.
  • Plant trees at least 10 feet ( 3 meters) away from the structure.
  • Plant trees and shrubs into small clusters to break up the continuity of combustible materials.

Extended Zone: 10 – 30 metres

The goal in the Extended Zone is not to eliminate fire, but to reduce its intensity. If your property extends into this zone, here are some important steps you can take:

  • Selectively remove evergreen and conifer trees to create at least 3 metres of horizontal space between the single or grouped tree crowns.
  • Remove all branches to a height of 2 to 3 metres (6 to 10 feet) from the ground.
  • Regularly clean up accumulations of fallen branches, dry grass, and coniferous needles to eliminate potential surface fuels, especially near storage sheds and other buildings.
  • Secure Propane Tanks: If you have propane tanks, ensure they are securely anchored and located away from structures. Turn off the gas supply during a wildfire threat.
  • Continue to apply these principles if your property extends beyond 30 m. Work with your neighbors in overlapping zones to manage vegetation, create fuel breaks, and maintain defensible space to prevent fire spreading towards your properties.
  • Trim Trees and Overhanging Limbs: Trim tree branches or limbs that are within 10 feet of a stove or chimney flue opening. Remove branches up to a height of ~10 feet.
  • Trees 10 to 20 meters from the home should have a space of at least ~3.5 meters between canopy tops.
  • Trees 20+ meters from the home should have ~2 meters between canopy tops.

FireSmart BC Landscaping

Download the FireSmart BC Landscaping Guide for practical recommendations for homeowners, tenants, developers, and community planners to choose fire-resistant plants and implement FireSmart landscaping practices to enhance wildfire resilience.

The FireSmart Landscaping guide covers a comprehensive range of topics, including an introduction to FireSmart principles, details on plant flammability, a FireSmart plant chart, and tips on landscaping techniques to minimize the risk of wildfire damage to properties.

    Use Fire-Resistant Building Materials

    Siding: Opt for non-combustible siding materials like stucco, brick, metal, or fibre cement board.

    Doors: Choose garage doors and entry doors with a strong seal and fire rating.

    Roofing Materials:

    • Replace wood shingles and missing shingles with fire-resistant materials like metal, clay, composite rubber, or asphalt shingles.
    • Close gaps under shingles and roof tiles.
    • Consider boxed eaves and soffits to prevent ember accumulation.
    • If your home has a wood burning heating system, install spark arresters on chimneys and cover vents to prevent ember entry.

    Windows and Vents: Install tempered, double-paned glass windows to resist radiant heat. Cover your vents with fine mesh screens to block wind blown embers.

    Insulation: Choose fire-resistant insulation materials for walls and attics. Mineral wool, fiberglass, and cellulose insulation are good options.

    Fire-Resistant Sealants: Use fire-resistant caulking and sealants around windows, doors, and other openings to prevent ember entry.

    Fire-Resistant Paints: Apply fire-retardant paints to exterior surfaces. These coatings can slow down the spread of flames.

    Decks and porches: Build with fire-resistant materials and keep decks elevated off the ground.

    Fences: Build fences with a non-flammable material like aluminum, steel, or wrought iron instead of wood. If you have a wood fence around your home, consider replacing the sections that come into contact with your home with metal.

    Sprinkler running on the grass in the back yard of a house in Vancouver, BC.

    Keep a Working Sprinkler System

    During a wildfire, sprinklers can help protect your home and property against wind-blown embers, radiant heat, and direct flames. Keep your sprinkler system accessible and in working condition prior to the wildfire season.

    To help minimize embers from igniting, you can mount sprinklers in a few locations:

    • on the roof
    • under your eaves at the edge of a roof
    • on the ground, directed towards the home (from multiple locations)

    Note: Check with your local fire department before utilizing your sprinkler system during a wildfire situation as there may be water restrictions in place.

    Grab-and-go bag diagram.

    Pack Your Emergency Kit (Grab-N-Go Bag)

    Prepare an emergency kit, also known as a Grab & Go Bag, with essentials like water, non-perishable food, medications, important documents, and clothing. Keep it easily accessible in case of evacuation.

    Your Grab & Go bag should be small enough to carry with enough supplies to sustain you and your family for at least 12 hours. Some people prefer to have at least 3 days of food and water in their emergency kit.

    Your emergency kit should include the following items, at a minimum:

    1. Water: Have at least one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days. Water is crucial for hydration and sanitation.
    2. Non-Perishable Food: Stock up on non-perishable food items such as canned goods, granola bars, dried fruits, nuts, and high energy snacks. Make sure you have enough to sustain your family for several days.
    3. Medications: Keep a supply of necessary prescription medications and any over-the-counter medications you might need. Remember to rotate these periodically to keep them fresh.
    4. Phone charger, power bank
    5. A HELP / OK sign
    6. Battery powered radio or hand crank radio
    7. Important Documents:
      • Identification: Copies of your driver’s license, passport, BC Care Card, and other identification.
      • Insurance Policies: Copies of home, auto, and health insurance policies.
      • Medical Records: Copies of medical records, vaccination records, and allergy information.
      • Financial Records: Copies of bank account information, credit cards, and mortgage details.
      • Emergency Contacts: A list of emergency contacts, including family members, friends, and local authorities.
    8. Clothing and Personal Items:
      • Sturdy Shoes and Clothing: Pack comfortable clothing suitable for the weather, including sturdy shoes or boots.
      • Warm Layers: Even in warm climates, nights can get chilly during evacuations.
      • Hygiene Supplies: Toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, baby wipes, and other personal hygiene items.
      • Sunscreen.
      • Eyeglasses or Contact Lenses: If you wear corrective lenses, have an extra pair.
    9. Items for Children & Pets:
      • Baby Care
        • baby food
        • bottles
        • medications
        • diapers
        • wipes
        • clothing
        • blankeys, small toys & games
      • Pet Care
        • Kennel
        • leash, collar, ID tag
        • water
        • food & treats
        • medications
    10. Flashlights and Batteries: Ensure you have working flashlights with extra batteries. Power outages are common during wildfires.
    11. First Aid Kit: A basic first aid kit with bandages, antiseptics, pain relievers, and any specific medical supplies you might need.
    12. Multi-Tool or Swiss Army Knife: A versatile tool can be handy for various tasks.
    13. Garbage bags.
    14. Cash: Keep some cash on hand in small bills in case ATMs and credit card machines are unavailable.
    15. Dust masks.
    16. Whistle: A whistle can help you signal for help if needed.

    Check out the Government of BC’s article: How to build an emergency kit and grab and go bag

    Create An Evacuation Plan

    Develop an evacuation plan with your family, have a designated meeting point, and make sure everyone in your household is aware of the plan. If possible, plan more than 1 escape route from your neighborhood.

    Preparing Your House For Evacuation:

    • Shut off propane or gas tanks
    • Turn off all pilot lights (furnace, water heater)
    • Place any combustible outdoor furniture in your garage or house
    • Close all doors and windows
    • Turn on outside lights

    Preparing Your Vehicle For Evacuation:

    • Keep fuel tank above half full during fire season
    • Roll up windows to keep smoke and ash out
    • Keep vehicles parked outside the garage, facing the direction of your escape route
    • Place essential items & emergency kit in the car

    Monitor Events:

    Evacuation Order vs Evacuation Alert?

    An evacuation alert is a precautionary notice issued by authorities when there’s a potential threat from a wildfire. During an alert, residents should gather essential items, pack their emergency kit, and prepare for evacuation.

    An evacuation order is a mandatory directive to immediately leave an area due to an imminent threat.