February 27, 2024
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By Aaron D’Andrea¬†

Wildfires are a major threat to Canadian communities and homes.

The Intact Center on Climate Adaptation, located at the University of Waterloo, published a report on Monday that aims to give homeowners and local communities practical tips to help reduce the risk of wildfires.

Anabela Bonada, the director of the Centre for Fire Research and Education (CFRE), said that the report was one of the most significant the center has produced.

In an interview with Global News, Bonada, manager at the Centre and research associate, said that 2023 was “like a warning” as wildfire season lengthens and becomes worse.

Canadians are moving more into this area in recent years. These communities are surrounded by drier materials, and if wildfires keep spreading and consuming communities… it’ll be more serious.

Canadians saw this in the past. Most recently, in 2021, when Lytton in B.C. was completely destroyed by fire.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada reports that the wildfires in Fort McMurray in 2016 were the costliest disaster for insurers in Canada’s history, with an estimated $3.58 Billion.

We’re vulnerable. Bonada stated that some communities have begun to follow the recommendations in the report. However, at home, there are not many people who are taking these steps.

People in these communities either don’t know that their houses and property are at risk of fire, or they aren’t aware of the actions they can take to reduce that risk.

Two infographics are included in the report: one is for homeowners and another for community groups.

The centre’s homeowner guide outlines three levels of measures, from DIY work to working alongside a professional for upgrades.

The centre suggests that homeowners upgrade their homes by replacing worn-out or missing weather strips on doors and adding non-combustible screens to external vents. They also recommend installing materials such as metal, stone, or chain-link fencing, within 1.5 meters of the house.

Installing non-combustible materials like stucco, stone or a fire resistant roof of Class A is a more complex upgrade. You can also retrofit your deck to have a fire-rated surface.

Bonada stated that the results of the extensive research we conducted for the report showed that by implementing all these measures, the chances of your house catching fire could be reduced by 75%.

The biggest investment many will make in their lifetime is a home. Even if you don’t own the house, but live there, you’re not welcome to be displaced.

Bonada said that, given the insurance price of wildfire damages, it is in Canadians “favour” if these measures are taken.

She said: “I strongly recommend that they contact their insurer and ask the following question: Are there any policies surrounding me and any ways you can support me in implementing these measures?

If customers ask the insurance companies about their home’s condition, they can save money and prevent insurance companies from having to pay out for those losses.

The centre’s community guide advocates regular maintenance, installation of fire-resistant materials in landscaping within a 10 metre radius of infrastructure and structures, construction of new structures using fire-resistant materials, and the design and updating of existing structures to make them ignition resistant.

The report also suggests that communities should have greater distance between buildings in areas of high fire risk to reduce the spreading of fires, as well as restricting development where mitigation measures cannot meet minimum standards in terms health, safety, and environmental protection.

The centre also recommends that communities provide at least one shelter for emergencies, enough water to combat fires, and two or more suitable egress and access routes.

Our biggest recommendation is that the government should also play a part in this. The government has a number of competing priorities. A lot of money is requested constantly. Our suggestion would be to launch a low-cost national program on wildfire prevention,” Bonada explained.

This report aims to inform people about their risk, and provide them with the necessary tools. This report does just that. This report takes time to create and if nobody uses it, then lives (and) properties are lost. “I encourage the government launch a programme to get people to use the tools we already have.”

Ottawa pledged $1.6billion to increase Canada’s resilience to climate change as part of the National Adaptation Strategy. The strategy calls on communities to develop wildfire prevention and mitigation community plans by 2030.

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