It started with an ominous plume of smoke rising behind a mountainous horizon visible from Mckay Creek, near Lillooet in southwestern British Columbia. That’s when Erin and her partner decided to take action, resolving that within the bounds of their own physical safety, they would do everything they could to save their home.
They started with a quickly drafted plan and an agreement to pack up and leave, “no questions asked”, if flames began to approach from three sides, if either of them wanted to get out, or if the water stopped flowing. Then they got to work, carrying out a series of simple tasks aimed at a single overriding goal: denying the huge fire any opportunity to take hold on or near the home. As she explained in a post that went viral on Twitter, and again in a video testimonial for FireSmart BC, they spent the next 30 hours mitigating every risk they could control:
- They cut all the grass and weeds near the house as short as possible
- They used regular garden hoses and sprinklers to keep the outside of the house – including the roof – wet
- They moved propane and other flammable or explosive materials a safe distance from the home
- They cleared wood and dry debris away from the house, and moved flammable yard items inside
- They loaded their most precious possessions into their vehicles and parked them near the front gate
- They also had an evacuation plan, complete with details of how and under what conditions they would leave
So what did they achieve? When the flames finally arrived, they consumed everything in their path, including 158.5 hectares of Erin’s 160-ha property – all except the house and the area immediately surrounding it.
It is no coincidence that everything they did right came straight from the FireSmart BC Homeowners Manual. Making a home more wildfire resilient is not complicated, requiring no specialised training and no equipment more exotic than common lawn and gardening tools. The point is to remove any and all potential fuels from the immediate vicinity of the structure: wildfire travels and spreads where flames and embers find something to ignite. Obviously, where there is nothing to burn, there can be no fire, so even the biggest blazes can be kept at bay if the right preparations are undertaken. There are no guarantees, but many firefighters know from personal experience that, more often than not, the homes that survive a wildfire are those whose owners took preventative measures beforehand.
This is precisely the approach that the FireSmart program was founded on to promote and support, and we strive everyday to spread awareness of how a little advance preparation can successfully defend homes and communities at large. In fact, just a few weeks ago, the FireSmart BC Magazine published an article titled “Wildfires in BC: What you can do NOW to give your property a fighting chance”.
It is important to draw the correct lessons from her experience. The first is that while they did many things right and managed to save the home, apart from regularly pruning the lower branches of trees near the house, they left many things to the proverbial last minute. According to her account, the smoke was less than 20 kilometres away when they noticed it, and in some conditions, a wildfire can cover that distance in under an hour. In other words, they were very lucky.
The second is that the worst plan is no plan, as Erin acknowledged in her Twitter post, as they were “running around madly trying to prep things”, they realized how helpful it would have been if they had been more systematic about disposing of trash and yard waste. They also wished they had drawn up a list of items to take with them in the event of an evacuation alert or order, and for good reason: “too many decisions!” A key principle of FireSmart’s approach is that by carrying out regular maintenance and having a comprehensive evacuation plan, property owners can buy themselves precious time when it matters most.
Last but not least, the third lesson is that FireSmart’s program for wildfire preparedness works. While it is not a guarantee, the images that Erin posted online speak for themselves, her intact home serving as a testament to survival in the face of desolation.
For more information on all the things you can do to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your property against wildfire, please check out the following links:
- Prepared BC Wildfire Preparedness Guide
- Top 10 tips to FireSmart your home
- Why we focus on embers
- The Get FireSmart Podcast