Summer fire safety
Summer fire safety
Forest fires are one of the most prevalent natural disasters in B.C. We can all work towards minimizing the risk of fires by understanding the basic elements of fire safety to ultimately reduce human injuries, damages to property, and even death.
Fire safety – wildfires
Wildfires, also known as forest fires or wildland fires, are uncontrolled fires occurring in the wild or in rural areas (such as forests) that can burn and cover large areas in short periods of time.
Wildfires can move alarmingly fast. Wind-blown grass fires can travel at speeds of up to 8.5 kilometers per hour and crowning forest fires (fire that moves through the leaves and branches at the tops of trees) generally move at up to 5.5 kilometers per hour.
In Canada, there are approximately 8,000 wildfires that occur each year, burning an average area of 2.5 million hectares per year. B.C. has one of the highest occurrences of forest fires in Canada, averaging about 2,000 wildfires every year.
The ingredients of fire
Understanding the elements of a fire can go a long way towards better fire safety.
A fire requires three ingredients: heat, oxygen, and fuel. A fire will die if one ingredient is lacking, such as when the fire’s fuel source is removed or exhausted, there is a limited oxygen supply, or there is insufficient heat to maintain the fire.
A heat source serves to initially ignite the fire and is also required to keep a fire burning. Heat sources can take the form of a lightning strike, the sun, hot winds, a flame or ember from a burning campfire - even a carelessly tossed cigarette.
A fire also needs oxygen to survive, and most fires typically need at least 16% oxygen content in order to burn.
As for fuel, any flammable material in proximity to the fire such as trees, grass, brush and even the homes we live in, serves as fuel. Even a small spark fueled by underbrush, grass, dead leaves and twigs dried out by the summer heat, can lead to a roaring fire – potentially consuming everything in its path in a matter of minutes.
While lightning is currently the leading cause of forest fires in Canada, humans are actually a very close second. Each year, people are responsible for just under half of all wildland forest fires.
In 2014, 44.8% of the forest fires occurring that year were due to human activity - and more often than not, human carelessness. Some ways people can cause fires include:
- Haphazardly throwing cigarette butts on the ground
- Improper burning practices leading to escaped fires during backyard burning
- Equipment fires (such as from faulty ATVs, power equipment and lawnmowers)
- Carelessly discarding barbecue or fireplace ashes
- Arson (intentionally caused fires)
- Unattended campfires
The Government of Canada provides the following fire safety tips for preparing your home, family and communities for potential wildland forest fires:
- Prepare or purchase an emergency kit and maintain first-aid supplies
- Check for and remove fire hazards in and around your home which may include dry branches, debris and leaves
- Have your family learn fire safety techniques
- Formulate an escape plan
- Consult with an expert about making your home fire-resistant
- Get familiar with the “STOP, DROP and ROLL” procedure for when clothing catches on fire
- In the event that a wildfire is approaching your home, the Government of Canada suggests the following steps:
- Close all doors and windows in the house
- Cover house openings like vents and windows with duct tape or pre-cut plywood
- Turn off propane or natural gas, and move any propane barbecues in the open and away from buildings and structures
- Move combustible materials like flammable drapes and curtains away from windows
- Listen to and monitor local radio stations and be prepared to evacuate at any time
- If enough water is available, turn on sprinklers to wet the roof of your home
Fire safety - do your part
It’s crucial that all members of society contribute towards proper fire safety - even if you and your property are not directly affected.
One of the byproducts of a wildfire is smoke – a mixture of gases and very small particles that, when inhaled, can lead to serious health consequences. One such gas is carbon monoxide, which is toxic and can be quite harmful to a person’s health. The small particles in smoke can travel deep into a person’s lungs, and in some cases absorbed into the bloodstream. Short-term health effects include a scratchy throat, irritated sinuses, runny nose, teary eyes, increased mucous production, headaches, and a cough.
Be fire safe when camping
When it comes to human-related causes, irresponsible use of campfires is one of the leading causes of wildland forest fires.
Proper use of campfires is critical to preventing fire hazards. There are some very basic steps that we can all take towards reducing the impact of wildfire.
If you’re camping, always check with local authorities on open-air burning restrictions, read up on local burning regulations, and keep up-to-date on fire bans in the relevant area.
Choose a campfire location that is downwind and away from your tent and belongings. If you can, build a pit about a foot deep to help keep the campfire contained. Building a circle of rocks around the fire can inhibit the fire from spreading. Get rid of any debris like twigs and leaves within a three-meter diameter area around the campfire site.
Build your fire at least three meters away from standing trees, stumps and logs, and at least 15 meters away from forest debris and buildings.
Other safe campfire practices include:
- Avoid the use of liquid fire starter as an explosion could result
- Avoid burning in windy conditions
- Keep the fire under surveillance at all times - do not leave the campfire unattended
- Keep you fire at a manageable size by ensuring it doesn’t get out of control
- Have sand, a bucket of water, and a shovel nearby
- When you are ready to extinguish your campfire, Smokey Bear recommends the following procedure:
- Allow the wood to burn completely to ash, if possible
- Pour lots of water on the fire, drown all embers, not just the red ones
- Pour until hissing sound stops
- Stir the campfire ashes and embers with a shovel
- Scrape the sticks and logs to remove any embers
- Stir and make sure everything is wet and they are cold to the touch
- If you do not have water, use dirt. Mix enough dirt or sand with the embers. Continue adding and stirring until all material is cool. Remember: do not bury the fire as the fire will continue to smolder and could catch roots on fire that will eventually get to the surface and start a wildfire.
- Remember: if it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave!
Summer provides us with some of the most ideal weather for forest fires. By being mindful, taking the appropriate precautions and practicing fire safety, you can enjoy it to the full extent while limiting the danger of fire.
- Brought to you by the RRU Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee