FireSmart: Protecting your community from wildfire

Most Whistler residents live in or near forested areas and with that comes the risk for wildfire. “Protecting homes and neighbourhoods from the threat of fire in a forested community is a shared responsibility,” says Geoff Playfair, Assistant Fire Chief with the Whistler Fire Rescue Service (WFRS). “Wildfires are natural, and will occur in this valley. To reduce the impacts of a wildfire on our built environment, the Whistler Fire Rescue Service needs to work closely with our residents and businesses.”

The RMOW has been carrying out tree thinning projects since 2005. Thinning involves cutting trees and brush to decrease the risk of wildfire and to help the forest mature by changing the amount of sunlight on the forest floor. This, in turn, increases both flora and fauna in the area. While the RMOW’s efforts at tree thinning have had positive effects and should be continued, Playfair points out, “It simply isn’t enough”. Municipal projects are limited to Crown Lands and the RMOW needs private land owners to join in and take responsibility for thinning on their land.

For homeowners living in wildland-urban interface or intermix areas (the area where the forest meets properties or other developments; including much of Whistler), the FireSmart program, provides useful information and tools for individual property owners or neighbours to work together to improve the likelihood of their homes surviving a wildfire.

FireSmart Assessments are part of the FireSmart program, which was adopted by the Province in 2002.The WFRS is also now promoting the FireSmart Communities program. “The benefit of the fire smart communities program is that it is grassroots and empowers residents to make changes in their own neighbourhoods to help reduce the risk of wildfire,” says Playfair.

The first step in the FireSmart Communities program is a meeting between the WFRS and either an individual property owner or a committee representing a neighbourhood to assess fire hazards. The committee and the WFRS then develop a list of realistic actions to address the hazards and then schedule the recommended activities. The activities are then logged and submitted for review, and if approved, the community receives recognition as a FireSmart Community.

The FireSmart program has many benefits for Whistler and individual property owners, neighbourhoods, and the community. “Because you are thinning foliage around your home, you are increasing fire safety, while improving the look of your yard and the sight line and safety of those around you,” says Playfair. Modifications to buildings also have potential to increase resale value, while making homes more fire resistant.

In addition to FireSmart assessments, the WFRS can also help residents access lands they do not own to legally thin trees. A permit is required by residents to cut anything on Crown land, on municipal right of ways, or in tree preservation zones, and the WFRS can assist residents to obtain permissions.

“Individual homeowners and wider communities can take simple steps like forest thinning to reduce the impact of wildfire. The time to reduce the threat of wildfire is now, not when a fire is at your doorstep,” says Playfair.

For more information on FireSmart Communities, visit the WFRS webpage. To start a neighbourhood project, contact an Assistant Fire Chief at 604-935-8260.