Albertans who live in the province’s rural areas have the best of all worlds: lots of space to roam, beautiful views, and plenty of land to raise both plants and animals. It’s a wonderful lifestyle to have, but unfortunately rural residents carry a certain amount of risk that doesn’t exist in the city.
Wildfires are a serious danger to rural properties, and the last few summers have had especially high incident rates. Although wildfire season doesn’t traditionally start until June, as early as May this year there were more than 100 wildfires raging throughout the province, with 36 of those considered to be burning uncontrollably. That resulted in close to 30,000 Alberta residents being evacuated from their homes. According to Global News, Alberta saw more land burn than ever before this fire season, with more than two-million hectares scorched. That is an area equivalent to about 31 times the size of Edmonton.
October is said to “officially” mark the end of the wildfire season, but, as mentioned, 2023 has been a particularly bad year. Experts say several fires may continue to burn deep underground throughout the winter, ready to re-emerge in the spring.
How wildfires get started
Alberta is well-known for impressive lightning storms, with the province experiencing an estimated average of 400,000 strikes each summer. The Canada Safety Council reports that during the summer, lightning flashes occur approximately every three seconds, which contributes to an annual nationwide total of 2 to 2.5 million strikes.
While lightning is a significant factor in the occurrence of wildfires, it is not the primary source. In a 2019 Calgary Herald article, officials noted that over 70% of fires in Alberta were initiated by human activities. These human-induced causes include careless smoking, sparks from ATVs and other off-road vehicles, and uncontrolled campfires.
What is firesmart landscaping?
FireSmartCanada.ca is a national program that helps Canadians increase neighbourhood resilience to wildfire and minimize its negative impacts. Along its many resources is advice for firesmart landscaping.
Firesmart landscaping consists of several principles, the most important being the creation of a 1.5 metre horizontal non-combustible surface perimeter around your home. Your home should be surrounded by things that will not burn, such as pathways, pavement, and patios. Not only are these areas useful, they can also act as a “fire break” for encroaching flames. Green up the areas with planters, however keep them a few feet away from your house as potting soil is very flammable when dry. Planters made of stone or rock, rather than wood or plastic, can also help prevent the spread of fire.
Within 10 metres of your home, firesmart landscaping should be low-density and incorporate fire-resistant plants. There are several options of fire-resistant plants available, the general characteristics of which are:
- Moist, supple leaves
- Those that accumulate minimal dead vegetation
- Water-like sap with little odour
- Low amount of sap or resin material
Leafy trees, known as deciduous trees, are more resistant to wildfires. Look for species such as poplar, maple, aspen, alder, and cherry. On the contrary, trees with cones and needles, classified as coniferous or evergreen, are highly flammable and should be avoided within a 10-meter proximity to homes in wildfire areas. Avoid species such as spruce, fir, pine, cedar, and juniper.
Place everything so it has plenty of space around it to avoid having fire hop from one plant to another.
Although we love using woody mulch in the city, in rural areas it may not be the best idea. Woody mulch provides a great place for fires to start from flying sparks and embers and allow it to keep growing. You can still reap the benefits of mulch, however it’s better to choose inorganic mulches such as decomposed granite, gravel, or rocks.
Keep grass mowed short and well-watered to slow down a blaze. Regular maintenance is crucial to keep your firesmart landscaping effective over time. This includes ongoing pruning, mowing, and removing of dead vegetation. Also keep a close eye on areas where dead vegetation can accumulate, such as in corners and your roof’s gutters.
Professional landscaping and landscape construction services you can count on
We at Mirage Landscaping concentrate on serving the southeast area of Calgary as a reliable landscape maintenance and construction company, but we are always happy to provide our expertise to homeowners around the rest of Alberta. We have been doing great work at surprisingly affordable prices for three generations, and the results are always fully guaranteed. We live and work where we love in Calgary, and specialize in these southeast districts and communities:
Auburn Bay, Chaparral, Chaparral Valley, Copperfield, Cranston, Douglasdale, Heritage Pointe, Lake Bonavista, Mahogany, McKenzie Lake, Mackenzie Towne, Maple Ridge, New Brighton, Odgen/Lynwood/Millican, Parkland, Riverbend, Sundance, Walden, and Willow Park.