The good news about fire damage is that virtually every home insurance policy covers it, as long as the fire wasn’t started intentionally. Wildfires, however, spread quickly and can easily ruin entire communities. And no matter how much insurance you’ve bought, it’s always better to not have to use it.
First of all, determine if you’re at risk for wildfire damage. While city slickers surrounded by more gravel than grass don’t have to worry too much, there are plenty of communities across Canada, primarily those near coniferous forests, that should be on alert.
The fires that ravaged Fort McMurray, Alta. last May made headlines for months, but other communities are even more vulnerable, Mike Flannigan, director of the University of Alberta’s Western Partnership for Wildland Fire Science, told CTV News. These include Timmins, Ont., Prince George, B.C. and Whitecourt, Alta. Flannigan recommends municipal governments create a two-kilometre-wide buffer zone between their communities and nearby forests to slow the progress of any fires. But what can individual homeowners do?
Create your own buffer zone
You can start by creating similar defensive areas around your house: clear any brush and piles of firewood; use rock mulch; remove flammable trees like pine and spruce, and consider planting more fire-resilient trees, such as aspen, poplar, and birch. Keep any grass well mowed and watered. Also make sure gas and propane tanks, lumber, rubber tires and packing crates are out of the way. This fuel-free area, or Priority Zone 1, should extend 10 metres beyond the house, the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction recommends.
Priority Zone 2 is the area 10 to 30 metres away from your home. Reduce fuels by making sure the tops of trees are at least three metres apart, and remove thick shrubbery to prevent flames from racing up to the forest canopy. If your home is on an incline, extend this zone further, since fires spread more rapidly uphill.
Priority Zone 3 extends 30 to 100 metres away from your home. In this area, your goal is to thin shrubs and trees so fires are easier to extinguish. Make sure more flammable trees are spaced further apart.
Choose good materials
If your roof is made of wooden tiles, which ignite easily, consider replacing them with asphalt shingles, metal or clay tiles. Once a good material is in place, keep the roof clean. Clogged gutters are obviously a fire hazard, but even a sprinkling of pine needles can ignite if an ember falls on them.
In terms of exterior walls, select non-combustible materials such as brick, concrete, stucco and metal instead of logs and timber.
Mind the gaps
Extreme heat from wildfire flames 30 metres away can crack and shatter windows, so replace any single-pane windows with either double-paned windows or ones made of tempered glass. These are less likely to shatter and are better at keeping out embers. Furthermore, if they shatter, they will break into round granules instead of sharp, jagged shards. Cover vents and eaves with 3-millimetre mesh to prevent embers from entering the building and igniting, and also make sure you screen in decks, porches and balconies with fire-resistant material.
To estimate your insurance costs, get a home insurance quote.