Potential for wildfires to burn houses in Nova Scotia is real, precautions are important

19 March 2020

Published by https://www.thechronicleherald.ca

CANADA – Being on self-isolation may seem like a good time to look at cleaning up in and around the yard.

But if your plan involves burning the deadfall from trees and brush, there’s an important thing to remember: It’s fire season.

The Lands and Forestry Department says that means it’s time not only to heed provincial notices of burning regulations, but also to look at making your property as safe as possible from wildfires.

The department’s fire prevention officer, Kara McCurdy, said people don’t really think of fires here going through yards and jumping from house to house like the blazes in recent years in Slave Lake and Fort McMurray, but the risk is real.

“We definitely have a high potential for fire spread to structures here in Nova Scotia again,” she said. “It’s just a matter of when it’s going to happen. It may not be to the scale of Fort McMurray, but definitely multiple structures are going to be impacted by a wildfire.”

A fire in Porter’s Lake in 2008 destroyed two homes, and one in the Spryfield area the next year burned eight.

McCurdy said there are federal suggestions under the firesmart program (firesmartcanada.ca) to reduce the risk of your home being  damaged if a wildfire occurs in your area.

Those include a 30-metre buffer zone around your house without woodland, or tall grass, and that 1.5 metres around your house should be combustible free. Suggestions include keeping gutters free of old leaves, gardens free of leaves and dead plants, and removing firewood from the side of the house.

Another issue is bark mulch, which can ignite from discarded cigarettes or flying embers.

“Mulch is fine around trees and outer gardens, but we recommend you don’t use it at all against structures,” McCurdy said.

Likewise, plants in gardens next to the house shouldn’t be evergreens or conifers, because they burn hot quickly.

Tree that are pruned two metres up from the ground can also slow fire spread from a surface fire.

Fire season officially started March 15, but even before that there were fires in Digby, Shelburne and Yarmouth counties.

McCurdy said those have mostly been grass fires or people burning brush, and not in woodland.

This is the time of year, with dry condition, a winter with not a lot of snow, and brown grass everywhere, that grass fires can spread quickly, she said.

“It could end up being another cold, wet spring, or it could end up being like a couple years ago and hot and dry. We’re in a guessing game right now of what we’re going to be faced with, but what we are faced with right now is no snow in the central and the western regions… usually we have some snow in the woods right now.”

She said people need to pay attention to the province’s burn safe map (novascotia.ca/burnsafe), which is updated daily to tell people whether they can burn after 2 p.m., after 7 p.m., or not at all.

“When we get into the yellow and the red is when we’re starting to get concerned that fires can escape, and people need to follow that map,” McCurdy said.

She said people also have to make sure that the area they are burning in is safe, with clearance from other combustible materials.

“If you have a campfire pit or a burn barrel you need to have proper clearances, because people let their  guard down. What our concern is right now is the grass. You may think it’s safe to burn, but if that spreads to the grass, it could spread to your shed or other buildings.”

Provincial regulations require that piles of brush being burned must be at least 10 metres away from combustible items, such as buildings, fences and tall grass, and that adequate means of controlling the fire if it escapes be at hand.

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