Do You Live In The Interface?
Houses on British Columbia's North Shore, around the Okanagan, and near or in any forested area on Vancouver Island or the Gulf Islands face a high risk of being burned right to the ground by a wildfire, but there is a solution.
The satellite photos above show the outskirts of Mission, Maple Ridge, Victoria, North Vancouver, West Vancouver, Kelowna, and Sooke. These areas - among others - are classified as Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) - or Interface, for short. It's where the city meets wildlands. Thousands of homes in California, Colorado, and Australia have been destroyed specifically because they were built within a few kilometres of a forested area. Fire attacks not only houses on the edge but literally obliterates complete suburbs (see link to read more).
The Cariboo region (e.g. Prince George), Thompson-Nicola region (e.g. Kamloops), and Okanagan region (e.g. Kelowna) routinely have been threatened and damaged by large forest fires. If you live in any of these areas, you may have already been subject to evacuation notices or evacuation orders. As I write this, the Flood Falls Trail Fire has forced the closure of Highway 1 from Chilliwack to Hope.
Why Is This A Problem For You?
If your house is in the Lower Mainland, on Vancouver Island, or on a Gulf Island, you have enjoyed the advantage of slightly more moisture in the air and therefore slightly lower risk of wildfire starts than the arid regions around Kamloops or the South Okanagan.
However, average summer temperatures are increasing. Based on a Government of Canada analysis of air temperatures for the past 70 years, the average annual temperature has increased by 1.8°C (3.2°C increased average winter temperature, 1.4°C increased average summer temperature). In just the past 20 years, the annual average has increased 0.5°C (0.3°C increase in summer average, 1.0°C increase in winter average).
Warmer air is able to hold more moisture and will therefore pull more moisture from vegetation, drying out the landscape and making wildfires and forest fires more likely to occur and more fast-growing when they do. If your house is in the Interface, you are living next to a ticking time bomb; every year, your home is more likely to face a wildfire.
When a wildfire - or its flying embers - reaches your house, what will happen?
It will burn down. It will be destroyed. Gone.
Your home will be GONE.
Guaranteed? No, but based on the very few houses that have survived wildfires, it's something like a 99.9% chance that your home will be lost.
What Can You Do To Protect Your House From Fire?
You have relatively inexpensive options that will increase your home's chances of survival from 0.1% chance to maybe 90% or better.
There are four crucial keys:
Reduce or eliminate vegetation (grass, bushes, trees) and structures (garden sheds, fuel tanks) near your house.
Install noncombustible finishes (roof and walls)
Install a thermal barrier behind those finishes (mineral fibre or fire-rated drywall).
Protect all concealed spaces and openings into the roof, through the walls, into any crawl spaces, and to enclosed outdoor spaces (e.g. doors, windows, attic vents, areas under decks or stairs).
I'll Hold The Fort With A Garden Hose
If you don't evacuate when the fire passes through, you will mostly likely die either from smoke inhalation (most likely) or from the fire itself. You will have to leave at some point, so the garden hose is not a solution.
I'll Just Use Roof Sprinklers
Have sprinklers worked for others in the past? Sort of.
Example 1 - 2021 Tremont fire in Logan Lake: https://biv.com/article/2022/07/45-sprinklers-helped-save-bc-town-wildfire-says-mayor
Example 2 - 2017 Kansas fire - a misleading photo of a house and green lawn surrounded by fire-blackened landscape: https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/did-sprinklers-save-house-from-massive-wildfire/
FireSmart BC doesn't discourage exterior sprinklers but points out their limitations. Read their guidance document here: https://firesmartbc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Factsheet_Sprinklers-and-FireSmart-principles2.pdf
If you have a municipal water supply AND electrical supply, AND the power to you has not gone out, AND you've kept the yard and eavestroughs clear of dead leaves, grass and needles, then maybe roof AND lawn sprinklers can prevent flying embers from igniting your roof and landscaping. Even with this perfect alignment of conditions, a wildfire that is hot enough because not all your neighbours were equally diligent will vaporize the water and burn through your property and consume your house anyway. You're pinning your hopes of saving the sanctuary filled with your possessions and memories on an unreliable strategy.
Jack Cohen is a retired U.S. Forest Service fire research physical scientist and explains for the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) in the video below how modest changes to a house and its immediate surroundings make all the difference:
Note the final point that Jack makes: "If your house doesn't ignite, it doesn't burn."
Do You Live In The Interface?
"Hardening" the house is an expression that's used to describe an approach to designing a house to resist natural disasters and is one of the requirements for an ultra high-performance house.
Construction costs in BC have been climbing aggressively since 2015 and about 10% EVERY YEAR for the past five years (2017-2022). The provincial inflation rate was just over 8% before the Bank of Canada interest rate hikes - the highest it's been since the 1980's. Rebuilding your house after a wildfire destroys it would be a burden unbearable for many.
How well does your home stack up to an ultra high-performance house? Download my free Home Performance Assessment:
For those who know they need to do something to protect their house but don't know that there's an affordable way to get a much better equipped one, I offer my Tuning Report™. I specialize in ultra high-performance homes, and in this exercise, I will prepare a simple cost comparison of keeping your house for another 30-40 years when it's really falling apart or until it falls victim to a major fire versus overhauling your current house or building new to get a far more comfortable home that will still be in excellent shape 30-40 years down the road.
Book a free, no-commitment 'Diagnostic Session' with me where we will discuss the cost of upgrading or rebuilding your house now compared to relying on your hope that the house will be there for you when you really need it.