As BC continues to manage through the evolving COVID-19 pandemic, there’s another threat on the horizon – wildfire season. Projections from Natural Resources Canada show an elevated wildfire risk for parts of BC that stretches into September. British Columbia and other Western provinces may see a wildfire season that’s “well above average” for much of the summer. And with a hold on the province’s prescribed burning to clear areas of fuel, debris or undergrowth (which would act as tinder for forest fires) during the pandemic, the risk of wildfires increases. It’s always important to be prepared, but it’s particularly important this year to ‘fire smart’ our homes.
To help you better prepare for wildfire season, we’ve created 4 checklists. Read on to learn how to strengthen your defenses around your home, keep your family safe, ensure you have the right coverage, and know what to do if you have to evacuate your home.
Checklist #1: Create a 10-metre defensible space around your home
Fifty percent of home fires caused by wildfires are started by airborne sparks and embers, which can travel as far as two kilometres beyond an approaching wildfire. Simple measures—particularly 10 metres around your home—can help.
1. Clear away fuel sources
Remove plants, leaves, twigs and dried grasses that can catch fire easily. Prune tree branches within two metres of the ground and keep your grass well-trimmed. Store any woodpiles a good distance away from your home.
2. Clean your roof
Embers from nearby wildfires often land on roofs which can ignite any debris or dry leaves laying on your roof. Clean your rooftop, including the gutters and corners where debris tends to collect. If you’re renovating or building a new home, consider fire-proofing your roof by using nonflammable materials like asphalt shingles, metal, slate or tile. Speak to a local roofing professional about options.
3. Check under your deck
Embers can also collect and ignite under your deck, especially if it’s laden with dried pine needles, leaves and other flammable fuel sources. Never store propane tanks or woodpiles under your deck.
4. Space out trees
Ensure there’s no direct path from the forest to your home. Make sure existing or newly planted trees are at least three metres apart from each other and 10 metres away from your home.
5. Add fire-resistant plants
Shrubs and trees with low sap, moist leaves and minimal accumulation of dead leaves can help to prevent the spread of wildfire. Avoid flammable plants with needles, resins, flaky bark and tall grasses. Mulch is also high flammable and best avoided.
6. Get even more information at FireSmartBC
Checklist #2: Keep your family safe
Get your family out safely by preparing ahead of time, before an emergency strikes. Go over your plans together and practice what to do.
1. Make an emergency plan and make sure your family knows it
Plan how you’ll get out of your home and your community should you be evacuated. Make sure your family, including young children, know your evacuation route, how you’ll communicate with each other and where to meet up if you get separated. Evacuations can happen on a moment’s notice, so advance planning is critical.
2. Create an emergency kit
Prepare an emergency kit at home that can sustain you and your family for at least 72 hours. BCAA Members save 20% on emergency kits for home and personal use with our rewards partner F.A.S.T. (First Aid & Survival Technologies Limited). Learn more at www.bcaa.com/emergencykit.
Step one: Buy a ready-made kit or build your own which includes items listed on PreparedBC's recommended basic essentials. Health Canada’s Website and fact sheet have additional coronavirus-specific recommendations for your emergency kit.
Step two: Customize your kit to meet your needs. For example, regular medications, comfort items for children, or food for your pet.
Step three: Put your kit in a place that's easy to get to. Prepare extra kits to keep in your car and at work.
3. Pack your essentials and key documents
Have a small bag of essentials packed and ready to go including personal items that you and your family will need should you have to leave home and stay elsewhere overnight. Include copies of personal identification, prescriptions and insurance papers.
4. Be visible
Ensure your home address can be seen by emergency responders. Be an advocate in your community for visible, fireproof street signs.
5. Ensure your car has enough gas in its tank
Wildfires can spread wide distances and smoke can spread even wider. Should you have to leave the area, you never know how far you’ll have to drive to get to a safe location or reach a gas station.
6. Be smoke-ready and stay up-to-date
Consider a portable air cleaner for your home if you have the means. Check the air quality index regularly or subscribe to receive air quality notifications in your area (select locations) and limit time outdoors in smoky conditions.
If you have pre-existing respiratory conditions, check in with your doctor and have your medications ready.
Mobile apps that alert you of wildfires and hazards in your region can keep you up-to-date on threats so you can take appropriate action. The BC Wildfire Service or Alertable apps (both available through Apple or Google Play stores) are great options and can provide you with real-time wildfire information. Emergency Info BC also provides information on evacuation alerts and orders, as well as response and recovery resources.
Checklist #3: Make sure you have the right coverage
Wildfires are just that, they’re ‘wild’ and we can’t predict what will happen when they strike. In addition to creating a defensible space around your home and preparing your family, review your insurance policies so you understand your coverage.
1. Keep all vehicles on your property insured
Keeping occasional-use recreational vehicles insured throughout wildfire season enables you to move them in the event of an evacuation. Basic liability insurance may be obtained to move uninsured vehicles to a safe location, but coverage for physical damage may not be available in fire-effected areas. Contact a BCAA Car Insurance Expert for details.
2. Keep your home insurance up-to-date
It may be difficult to purchase home insurance as a natural disaster is unfolding, so make sure you’re covered for wildfire season. Know what coverage you have and whether you need to update your policy. Document your valuables with photos or video, including renovations to your home and yard. Speak to your local BCAA Home Insurance Expert early on to go over your policy.
3. Move and document valuables
Transfer irreplaceable possessions and valuables to a safe storage location and take photos of anything that can’t be moved. Upload important documents and precious digital photos to a secured ‘cloud’ or onto a portable hard drive that you can encrypt for added security and take with you.
4. Get more tips from fire experts
Learn more about how you can protect your home and property against a forest fire with the FireSmart Begins At Home Manual from FireSmart BC or PreparedBC’s Wildfire Preparedness Guide. For questions about home insurance coverage in a forest fire, speak to your local insurance advisor. For BCAA insurance customers, visit our BC Wildfire Insurance Tips page for answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about your coverage.
Checklist #4: In the event of an evacuation
Notice of an evacuation can happen fast and at any time. Here are key to-dos to help you stay organized and informed.
1. Track your expenses
Keep your receipts for accommodation, meals and other out-of-the-ordinary expenses. Most home insurance policies will cover a certain amount of additional living expenses for those forced to evacuate their homes. As with any fire-related claim, the base policy deductible applies.
2. Contact your insurance provider
To make a claim or to obtain emergency funds, contact your insurance company right away. Most companies have a 24-hour emergency claims line. BCAA’s 24-hour number is 1.888.268.BCAA (2222) or you can make a claim online at bcaa.com/makeaclaim
3. Connect with BCAA
When a major emergency strikes, like wildfires, our BCAA Community Support Team will be there to help our Members, insurance customers and the local community. Our team can help answer your questions and guide you through any insurance processes.
Remember, disasters come in all shapes and sizes, so when it comes to common disasters in BC follow these three simple steps to prepare:
1. Know the Hazards
2. Make a Plan
3. Build a Kit
More details can be found on BCAA's Disaster Preparedness online resource page.