Jim Hilton pens a column on forestry each week for the Williams Lake Tribune. (File photo)

FOREST INK: Multipurpose wildfire guards Part 1

Properties located at the border of a community play an important role in wildfire protection

No doubt there are lots of opinions about what makes a good fire guard with some promoting little if any vegetation on the treated areas. Before the fires that threatened Williams lake in 2017, I thought the Fraser River and BC Hydro right of way would have enabled firefighters to stop the White Lake fire that had been burning for a few weeks on the other side of the river. After looking at satellite images, inspecting the area in the fall and talking to people who were fighting the fire it was apparent that under ideal burning conditions these “Beasts” are hard to stop.

With burning embers being thrown hundreds of yards ahead of the main fire front burning in a heavily timbered forest, firefighters have to be able to deal with the spot fires before the main fire front drives them away.

I am not a firefighter so I don’t want to get into details as to what finally stopped the fires threatening our city in 2017 but it is my understanding that the fire guards next to the power line should help if we get a fire coming from the same direction. The effectiveness of the guards depends on our ability to keep the lower forest layers in a condition that will slow the fire progress. I think a combination of hand removal and controlled burning are being considered as the best options in some areas at this time. With the record temperatures this year and anticipation of higher ones in the future, shade trees and fire resistant forests may be critical for people to get some relief from the sun especially if they don’t have access to air conditioning or want to get out in the fresh air.

I have discussed the fire smart approach around our homes so I would like to look at similar options in the adjacent fire guards.

There are a couple of stories about spot fires that were easily controlled when they were discovered in the treated areas so we’re already seeing the benefits of the thinned forests. In this and future articles I would like to take a look at fire resistant plants which could be considered for helping to enhance the effectiveness of controlled burns. According to an article from Oregon, fire-resistant plants that have the following characteristics: • Leaves are moist and supple. • Plants have little dead wood and tend not to accumulate dry, dead material within the plant. • Sap is water-like and does not have a strong odour. • Sap or resin materials are low. Most deciduous trees and shrubs are fire-resistant. Another good source is the Fire Smart BC Landscaping Guide. While the guide is meant to help British Columbians make informed choices about how to manage their lawns and gardens to increase resilience to wildfire on their properties I think it could be useful for managing fire guards near communities.

The guide recommends species, property layout, and plant care practices that reduce risk to our communities from a variety of natural hazards.

Because of the regional diversity of B.C. the guide suggests plants that are suitable for communities in terms of cold-hardiness, drought tolerance, and avoidance of invasive species. Homeowners, tenants, developers and community planners can all use this guide as a source of information for landscaping projects.

Properties located at the border of a community play an important role in protecting other properties from the harm of wildfires. Farmers and ranchers can also use this guide to enhance their landscaping decisions. In future articles I will look as some of the specific suggestions in the guide.

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