Landscaping isn’t just about making your house a home or increasing its resale value: with a little forethought, it can also substantially reduce the risk of loss due to wildfire, and this year FireSmart BC is making it easier than ever to sow greater resiliency on every part of your property.
Firefighters have long known from experience what a growing body of scientific evidence confirms, namely that what you plant, where you plant it, and how you maintain it can be the deciding factors in whether or not your home ignites when a wildfire gets too close. In fact, three of the most crucial FireSmart principles – keeping flammable materials off your roof, out of your gutters, and outside a 1.5-metre non-combustible zone surrounding your home at ground level – depend directly on making the right landscaping choices.
Hundreds of wildfires break out in British Columbia every year, and climate change is exacerbating the threat, so FireSmart BC has spared no effort in spreading awareness, explaining solutions, and otherwise empowering individuals, communities, and organizations to make sure their landscaping tactics support their resilience strategies. Without appropriate tactics, after all, even the most ambitious strategy can be reduced to little more than hope or, in some cases, ashes.
Start with the basics: The FireSmart BC Landscaping Guide
Alongside numerous other resources, our website now features the FireSmart BC Landscaping Guide, a deep reservoir of knowledge that includes an extensive list of fire-resistant plants, instructions on how to recognize the characteristics of others that may not be on the list yet, and expert insights on making vegetation a barrier that keeps sparks and embers from igniting your home. In addition to the fire-resistance properties of individual species, the Landscaping Guide also offers key facts about which plants do best in the various climates and microclimates in different parts of BC, as well as their watering needs and hardiness, allowing users to save time and money while simultaneously contributing to water conservation. The Guide puts an easy reference at your fingertips as you develop and implement a resilience strategy for your property. To download the free PDF version, just click here.
Teaming up to help you shop (Fire)Smarter
On another level, the FireSmart BC Plant Program works with and within the marketplace, putting wildfire resilience on the radar for all consumers who visit participating merchants, even those not consciously looking for such characteristics. The core of this effort consists of specialized product tags, which clearly identify those species regarded as fire-resistant and therefore most appropriate for use in proximity to homes and other structures.
The Plant Program was crafted with guidance from eminently qualified experts, including Brian Minter, a certified Master Gardener who has spent more than 50 years dispensing helpful advice to Canadian homeowners via radio, television, newspapers and magazines, and even a best-selling book. Minter, who describes himself as “really sold on FireSmart,” speaks with real passion on all things green, from backyard flower and vegetable gardens to national tree-planting programs – anything that restores some part of the ecosystems that development and other human activities erase every day of every year.
In a recent interview with the Get FireSmart Podcast, he offered up a full-throated endorsement of gardening’s myriad benefits, and these go far beyond physical exercise and psychological repose. “We’re finally finding our place in the world,” he said. “It’s not about us, it’s about the environment around us, it’s about nature, it’s about all the wildlife.” At the same time, he explained, people also have a lot to gain by pitching in to take care of the planet: gardens provide food and habitat for the pollinators that do so much to feed human societies, for example, and even a small pond can house dozens or even hundreds of frogs, creatures that naturally control the populations of mosquitoes and other pests, but whose own existence is under mounting pressure.
Minter’s bottom line is that if you make sure your soil has enough natural nutrients, use the right plants in the right places and combinations, and meet their water and other needs, you can indeed “create a beautiful home, but in a FireSmart way.”
Growing things has deep roots in the Minter family, and his enthusiasm and advocacy have played a huge role in inspiring younger generations to follow similar paths. And these days the coupling of environmental concerns with wildfire awareness is spawning whole new industries, often represented by equally passionate people like Karla Hoffman.
An arborist, horticulturist, and recognized authority on landscape design and resilience, she also consults with the BC Wildfire Service. Having previously helped develop the FireSmart Canada Guide to Landscaping, she also played a key role in creating the Plant Program for FireSmart BC.
As Hoffman pointed out in her own sit-down with Get FireSmart, there are no “fire-proof” plants, but some require higher temperatures and/or longer exposures to ignite. When it comes to developing a FireSmart landscape around your home, therefore, the trick is to combine fire-resistant vegetation and regular maintenance with a layout that puts both resistance and distance – and therefore time – on your side. “It’s not just what you plant,” she explains, “but where you plant it.”
When it comes to trees, she also stressed that while evergreens and conifers are much more hazardous than deciduous species, many of them are here to stay, and regular maintenance can go a long way toward mitigating risk. “You can do things like prune your trees and remove the things that are going to ignite quickly on the ground like the dried needles and cones,” Hoffman explained.
A dedicated space for the safety-conscious gardener
Strong response to the Plant Program and the Landscaping Guide create still more potential to piggyback improved safety outcomes on existing consumer trends toward more DIY gardening. Accordingly, FireSmart BC has established a dedicated Landscaping Hub for its website, a virtual one-stop shop offering science-based data, expert advice and insights, instructional videos, and other resources that help you get it right the first time – or correct existing vulnerabilities without breaking the bank.
At FireSmart BC, we think the beauty of any yard should be more than skin-deep, that it should have enduring resilience that not only decorates your property but also protects it. Whatever your budget, personal tastes, or level of experience, the new hub hosts a full spectrum of curated educational materials and easy-to-use tools that can be applied at any stage of your landscaping project(s), from visualizing, planning, and strategizing to implementation, final touches, and/ongoing maintenance. The Landscaping Hub is still being built out, a process that will continue to follow new scientific findings, emerging trends in the landscaping industry, and other factors that sharpen our understanding of fire behaviour and how to achieve greater resilience.
Most of this new knowledge will arrive through channels like academic research or information sharing with like-minded organizations, but a lot will come from examples set by homeowners themselves. This is the time of year when FireSmart BC turns up the volume on various forms of public outreach, seeking to heighten awareness and educate residents ahead of the dangerous months ahead, and every year we see regular people coming up with innovative ways to apply what they learn.
You can do this – and help other in the bargain
You may well be one of those people. Whether it’s a new way to implement FireSmart principles in a given setting, an effective hook to get more community members involved, or a particularly photogenic combination of resilience and aesthetics, we want to hear from you. Please share your own insights, experiences, or discoveries by emailing us at [email protected], and keep watching this space for the latest news on how to protect your property, your family, and your community.
For more information on how to increase the wildfire resilience of your property, please check out the following links:
FireSmart BC Fire-Resistant Plants
FireSmart BC Homeowner’s Manual
Know Your Property’s Ignition Zones