A new preliminary report about the wildfire disaster in Fort McMurray was just released in August of this year. “Why Some Homes Survived: Learning From the Fort McMurray Wildfire Disaster” published by the Institute of Catastrophic Loss Reduction and written by principle researcher, Alan Westhaver examined in the aftermath of the wildfire that destroyed over 2,400 homes why some homes survived while so many others were lost. With the increasing losses from wildfire and the continued growth of new communities in the wildland urban interface, gaining knowledge about what worked and what did not is not only helpful to communities as they rebuild but is also helpful to existing and new communities so that loss due to wildfire can be reduced through mitigation efforts.
The research was completed by using a methodology of completing on-site visual inspections made from the perimeter of surviving and burned homes and systematic hazard assessments were completed on 85 homes and adjacent properties using Home Ignition Zone and FireSmart® ( FireSmart® the Canadian counterpart to Firewise®) guidelines.
“• On average, surviving homes in urban and country residential areas rated with
‘Low’ to ‘Moderate’ hazard using FireSmart® criteria, whereas homes destroyed
rated ‘High’ to ‘Extreme’ hazard.
• In 89% of the side-by-side comparisons conducted (where one home survived
and the other did not), the surviving home rated with substantially lower risk.
• 100% of homes/home groups that survived extreme exposure without igniting
rated ‘Low’ hazard.
• 81% of all assessed homes that survived had a FireSmart rating of ‘Low’ –
‘Moderate’ whereas 56% of homes that were destroyed had a FireSmart rating of
‘High’ to ‘Extreme’.
• All of the isolated homes that survived amidst heavily damaged urban
neighborhoods rated with ‘Low’ hazard when vegetation further than 30m from
the home was discounted.
• All of the isolated homes that ignited amidst otherwise undamaged
neighborhoods were either rated with ‘Extreme’ hazard, or had critical
weaknesses making them immediately vulnerable”
We all can take action today to make changes to our homes and the landscape surrounding our homes to improve resilience in the event of a wildfire. The Firewise website offers a free downloadable toolkit, no cost on-line learning opportunities and no cost Firewise® resources. It is the little things that can help a home survive a wildfire. Learn how you and your neighborhood can become more resilient today.
Picture of FireSmart Home that survived in Fort McMurray by Alan Westerhaven