Wildifre papers Risk reduction status of homes reconstructed following wildfire disasters in Canada By Alan Westhaver, M.Sc. September 2015 ICLR research paper series – number 55 ISBN: 978-1-927929-03-2
This study looks into an aspect of wildfire disaster mitigation and recovery that has not been previously investigated. While previous research has focused on wildfire risk mitigations that homeowners should implement, those that they intend on implementing, or their attitudes towards mitigation and risk, this investigation sought to answer the question “To what degree have homeowners actually adopted and implemented FireSmart measures to mitigate the risk of future wildfire losses?”
The two worst wildland/urban interface (WUI) fire disasters in modern Canadian history, the 2003 Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park wildfire at Kelowna, British Columbia, and the 2011 Flat Top Complex of wildfires at Slave Lake, Alberta, occurred within a decade of each other. Each was a tragedy of national scale. However, these catastrophic circumstances also offered a rare occasion to better understand and improve upon the effectiveness of community wildfire protection and risk mitigation/education programs. This study assessed current wildfire hazard at 445 homes reconstructed since these wildfires against recommended FireSmart® guidelines. This comparison created a reliable measure of the degree to which FireSmart guidelines have been accepted and adopted by homeowners.
This study focused on hazard mitigations applied by residents at, or very near to, private homes. It did not assess the broad scale wildfire mitigations being applied by Kelowna or Slave Lake authorities on public lands, such as extensive fuel treatments, fire guards, public education initiatives, and other FireSmart activities identified in their progressive Community Wildfire Protection Plans. The latter actions are also important and complementary to mitigations employed in backyards by local residents.
In general, results of this investigation showed that a few FireSmart solutions have been widely adopted by homeowners, others in part, and some very little or not at all. The degree of adoption for known risk mitigations varied between geographic areas, between different categories of wildfire hazards, within categories of related hazard factors, and spatially within the home ignition zone. Equally important, the study revealed similarities among levels of adoption for some risk mitigations. Differences between urban centres and more rural settings were minor. Overall, twice as many wildfire hazard factors received a poor adoption grade, than those that attained an “excellent” rating.
Specifically, the degree to which guidelines have been adopted at private homes was rated good at Slave Lake, but fair to poor at Kelowna study sites. Only conditions at Slave Lake study sites could be confidently rated as “FireSmart.” Present conditions at Kelowna study sites could result in a repeat of 2003 events in those neighbourhoods.