October 13, 2023 /
Wildfire Risk Management Resources
With the frequency and severity of wildfires increasing, effective wildfire risk management is becoming increasingly difficult. In this article, we’ll explore a comprehensive range of wildfire risk management resources to help you make informed decisions, whether you’re a homeowner, community planner, or insurance professional. At SKYFOREST, we’re committed to offering cutting-edge, accurate data to help address the multifaceted challenges of wildfires—and this initiative starts with the groundwork of understanding risks.
Table of Contents
- Understanding Wildfire Risk
- Firesmart Preventive Measures
- Wildfire Emergency Planning
- Wildfire Resources
- Best Practices
- Case Study: Fort McMurray Wildfire (2016)
Understanding Wildfire Risk
Wildfire risk management begins with a fundamental understanding of the factors that lead to wildfires.
Wildfire Risk Factors
Several factors contribute to wildfires. These often intersect with one another:
- Climate Conditions: Year-over-year droughts, for example, create ongoing conditions conducive to wildfires.
- Weather Conditions: Seasonal high temperatures, winds, low precipitation, and low humidity can also increase the risk of wildfire.
- Fuel Load: Measured in kg/ha or tonnes/acre, fuel load is the quantity of flammable fuel available to burn. It can be classified by fuel size (i.e., fine, medium, or coarse fuels) or by fuel structure (i.e., surface vs overstorey fuels), and each amount is associated with ease of ignition and rates of fire spread. For example, fine fuels, like fine woody debris, can significantly increase wildfire risk.
- Topography: Steep terrain and rural-urban interfaces are particularly vulnerable to the spread of wildfires, making containment efforts more challenging.
- Industrial Activities: Land use decisions, logging, powerline maintenance, pipelines, or railways can influence the spread of wildfires.
- Recreational Activities: Hiking, camping, fishing, and ATV use can increase the risk of wildfires.
Wildfire Risk Assessment
Assessment is a pivotal process for all stakeholders in our community. It serves as the foundation for informed decision-making and proactive risk reduction. Wildfire risk assessment is crucial because it:
- Prioritizes and allocates resources where they’re needed most.
- Promotes community safety through the development of preventative measures and plans.
- Allows accurate risk assessment for homeowners and insurance professionals evaluating property risk and coverage.
Firesmart Preventive Measures
After risk assessment comes management and prevention—all aimed at reducing the likelihood of ignition and slowing the spread. These measures protect property and lives and contribute to overall community resilience.
Creating Defensible Space
Defensible spaces involve modifying the area around a home or structure to reduce the risk of fire reaching it. Here are some key strategies:
- Fuel Clearance: Maintain clear zones around structures by removing dead vegetation, dry leaves, and other flammable materials along utility corridors, roadsides, public lands, and homes.
- Firebreaks: Create non-flammable zones, such as gravel or concrete walkways, between vegetation and structures to disrupt the path of advancing flames.
- Community Planning and Zoning: Create plans encouraging buffer zones, fire-resistant landscaping, and well-designed greenspaces.
- Safe Storage: Store firewood and propane tanks away from structures, and keep other flammable materials in fire-resistant containers.
- Public Education and Outreach: Government agencies and insurers can collaborate on public education campaigns to raise awareness about defensible space practices to foster a collective effort to mitigate wildfire risks.
Choosing the right plants and landscaping materials can significantly reduce wildfire risk:
- Fire-Resistant Plants: These plants act as a natural barrier against fire spread and are less likely to ignite.
- Mulch and Ground Cover: Non-combustible mulch, gravel, or stone used as ground cover can reduce the risk of ember ignition near structures.
- Irrigation: Adequate irrigation hydrates plants, making them less likely to catch fire.
Strengthening the resilience of homes involves retrofitting and building practices that make them less susceptible to fire, decreasing safety and insurance risk.
- Fire-Resistant Materials: Materials like metal, tile, or fire-rated siding can reduce the risk of ignition.
- Barriers: Create defensible zones around the home using hardscape features like fire-resistant walls, patios, or driveways.
- Ember-Resistant Eaves: Modify eaves and soffits to prevent ember entry and reduce the risk of roof ignition.
Wildfire Emergency Planning
A well-thought-out emergency plan is vital for safeguarding lives and property in wildfire-prone regions.
Creating and practicing evacuation plans is essential for individuals, families, and communities facing wildfire risks. Here are key considerations for developing effective strategies:
- Early Warning Systems: Stay informed about wildfire developments through local authorities, news updates, and emergency alerts. Early warnings provide valuable time to prepare for evacuation. You can also stay in the loop by following local government agencies on social media.
- Evacuation Routes: Identify primary and alternative evacuation routes from your area. Plan routes that avoid wildfire-affected areas and congested roadways.
- Communication: For households, establish a family communication plan to ensure everyone knows where to meet if separated during an evacuation. For community stakeholders, ensure that direction and information are easily accessible to all residents of the affected area.
As part of your wildfire emergency plan, assemble emergency kits to sustain you and your family during evacuation and in case of displacement. Communities can also prepare these kits and have them ready for distribution when disaster strikes. Consider including the following:
- Non-perishable food
- First aid kit
- Flashlight and batteries
- Personal hygiene items
- Important documents
- Clothing and blankets
- Basic tools
Many resources are available to help homeowners, communities, and professionals stay informed and take proactive steps to mitigate wildfire risks. These resources often come from government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and research publications.
Federal, provincial, and local government agencies play a central role in wildfire management and prevention in Canada. Some essential resources include:
- Natural Resources Canada (NRCan): NRCan’s Canadian Wildland Fire Information System offers wildfire data, predictive services, and information on active fires nationwide.
- The Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre (CIFFC) is a not-for-profit corporation owned by Provincial, Territorial, and Federal wildfire management organizations. You can also navigate to all partner agencies on their website for more information related to wildland fires.
- Provincial/Territorial Fire Organizations: These agencies manage wildfire risks specific to each province. They offer resources, updates, and wildfire preparedness guidelines tailored to regional needs.
- Emergency Management Offices: Provincial and territorial emergency management offices provide information on evacuation procedures, emergency alerts, and disaster response.
Nonprofit organizations provide wildfire education, research, and support. These include:
- FireSmart Canada: Provides wildfire preparedness resources, including various programs to help communities reduce wildfire risks through education and mitigation strategies.
- The Nature Conservancy Canada (NCC): NCC focuses on ecosystem-based approaches to wildfire management, offering insights into prescribed burns and land management practices tailored to Canadian landscapes.
Researchers and institutions contribute valuable knowledge through publications that inform wildfire risk management strategies. These include:
Other best practices when it comes to wildfire risk management include the following:
Engaging communities in wildfire risk management is critical for collective preparedness and resilience. Practices can include education on defensible spaces, wildfire risks, response, and organizing clean-up initiatives. This can also include developing community wildfire protection plans to identify high-risk areas, establish evacuation routes, and outline emergency response protocols.
Insurance and Preparedness
Having the proper insurance and understanding risks is vital in any community. Homeowners should work with insurance providers to ensure adequate coverage for wildfire-related damages. Property owners can also undertake home hardening measures. Insurance providers and property owners should stay informed about wildfire developments and patterns to understand the risk in any given area.
Case Study: Fort McMurray Wildfire (2016)
The 2016 wildfire in Fort McMurray destroyed 2,400 homes and businesses and approximately 579,767 hectares of land. This caused the evacuation of over 90,000 people and led to an estimated total cost of $4,068,878,000, with insurance payments amounting to $3,600,000,000. This event highlighted the importance of:
- Understanding disaster risk for more proactive prevention.
- Strengthening disaster risk governance—the best practices set out by international agreements, such as the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.
- Investing in disaster reduction, such as protecting and retrofitting existing structures.
- Building resilience in recovery, like reconstructing more resistant buildings and ensuring compliance with current codes and safety regulations.
For expert wildfire risk assessment services, comprehensive data solutions, and innovative tools tailored to your needs, reach out to us at SKYFOREST. Our data is designed to help various stakeholders in the community, including insurance and re-insurance, engineers, infrastructure planners, homeowners, and government agencies, make accurate decisions about wildfire risk management.