Greg van Tighem talks to a receptive crowd during a previous FireSmart event. | Supplied / Greg van TighemScott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The province is already more than a full month into wildfire season and the threat is real.

The Alberta Wildfire Status Dashboard shows two out-of-control wildfires, one that started on March 31 in the Slave Lake Forest Area and was 54 hectares in size by April 1. 

Although conditions are poor, there is still something that everyone can do to help. It is, however, crucial to do it when there is no impending emergency.

“We really need residents and businesses and everyone to step up and FireSmart their properties,” said Christine Nadon, director of Legislative and Protective Services with the Municipality of Jasper.

“It can really make a difference during a wildfire event.”

Think of it as just another small step in your regular spring-cleaning practice.

The reasoning behind it makes a lot of sense, said Greg van Tighem, FireSmart co-ordinator for the Municipality of Jasper. The starting point is knowing that anything combustible will become fuel to the fire.

“That’s pretty easy to understand. You look at a normal house: you got a deck, and you got stuff under the deck. You got a fence around your property and maybe wood piled up on it or old tires or kids’ toys, lawn furniture … that is fuel for the fire,” he began.

“Substantial wildfire produces a lot of heat. It basically burns up to top of the trees – hundreds of feet above in some cases – and moves really rapidly. A lot of people think it’s the flames that come and burn your house down.”

Research has determined that wildfires can send embers several kilometres ahead of the actual flames. They loft on the wind like snowflakes in a snowstorm would.

Those embers can pile up against your fence or in corners just like those snowflakes would too.

“They catch in these spots, and if it’s combustible, it’s going to ignite,” van Tighem said.

“If it ignites, it could be something on the outside of your house like a fence and that could wick right to the house and then your house ignites.”

During the Fort McMurray fire in 2016, most of the homes that didn’t burn were taken care of in ways consistent with FireSmart principles.

“That’s just the way they took care of their property because really, FireSmart in a way is just keeping a clean, tidy property,” van Tighem said.

Some of the basic objectives of FireSmart are to keep your grass and your hedges trimmed, and not have a lot of firewood or lumber stacked against your house. Keeping your lawn watered can help too.

The more you can do now, van Tighem said, the better.

The municipality has lined up a handful of emergency preparedness events with van Tighem set to start them off with two presentations: the first for business owners and the second for everyone else. You can learn to FireSmart your business in the Quorum Room (downstairs in the library building) starting at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 9. The FireSmart Information Session for Residents is in the same room and at the same time on Monday, April 22.

Van Tighem said that everyone, even renters, should be mindful of the clutter that can accumulate even on balconies and around dumpsters like stacks of cardboard boxes.

“The problem isn’t wildfire. It’s the homes burning up. By removing those combustibles on your property following FireSmart practices, you can remove that equation and then there’s no disaster.”

Everyone has a part to play, and each person’s part can even be fun. You can even think of it as just being a good neighbour.

A general Wildfire Preparedness Information Session will also be held starting at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, April 24 in the Multi-Purpose Hall at the Jasper Activity Centre. That leads up to the annual Community-Wide FireSmart Day from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, April 27. The municipality will offer free yard waste and household hazardous waste pick-up right from your home during that event. Residents can pick up a package of paper yard waste bags from Home Hardware for free (while supplies last).

The municipality will also be hosting its annual Emergency Preparedness Week Open House on Tuesday, May 7 from 3 to 7 p.m. at the Emergency Services Building (a.k.a. the fire hall).

By Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Apr 02, 2024 at 16:00

This item reprinted with permission from    The Fitzhugh    Jasper, Alberta

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