The Fernie Fire Department will be holding an open house on Saturday, May 6, to discuss with locals how they can protect their neighbourhoods from the spread of wildfires. Phil McLachlan/The Free Press

Fire department encourages community wildfire plan

Saturday May 6, the Fernie Fire Department will be hosting an open house from 2-4 p.m.

The Fernie Fire Department (FFD), alongside FireSmart Canada, have teamed up to create a community plan which includes ways that the people of Fernie prevent the spread of wildfires.

Throughout the summer, they will be hosting multiple workshops. This coming Saturday, the Fire Department will be holding an open house as an introduction to these workshops.

Ever since the Fort McMurray fires last summer, FireSmart Canada has been focusing on building resilient communities in preparation for another similar disaster.

Many factors came into play in Fort McMurray which caused the rapid spread of the destructive fires. Some of the ways homes ignite are widely misunderstood.

A study by the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction (ICLR) shows that structures in the interface can be ignited by contact with flames, burning vegetation or adjacent homes. They can also be ignited by radiant heat transferred from burning vegetation or obstructions. Thirdly, they can be ignited by smouldering or flaming particles of fuel generated by fire and transported into contact with other solid fuels by winds.

Regardless of the heat source, ignition of a home only occurs when sufficient heat is transferred to vulnerable parts of a structure to allow combustion to occur and be sustained.

The vast majority of homes in the Fort McMurray disaster were ignited by floating embers.

The FireSmart Canada Community Recognition Program was created to encourage local, self-organized groups of neighbours to implement solutions for wildfire safety. This is achieved by learning how to decrease the risk of losing homes, through careful preparation of personal property.

This is a nation-wide program, which targets small neighbourhoods across the country. FireSmart is seeking “community champions”, those willing to organize a group of neighbours and make a difference.

FireSmart came into partnership with the Fernie Fire Department last January, after two representatives from the fire department received their Local FireSmart Representative (LFR) training.

Alan Westhaver has been working with FireSmart Canada for close to 20 years, and had a large hand in the design of this community program. Westhaver himself is a resident of Fernie.

Westhaver, along with FFD members Bruce Nelson and Cory Robinson, plan on launching several workshops throughout the summer to inform Fernie residents how they can prepare their properties on the off-chance of a wildfire. Here they will talk about the eight essential steps you can take to protect your home.

“Ultimately, if homes are more fire resistant, and we have less spots in our backyard where fire can get and start spreading from one thing to another and eventually ignite the home, that’s the goal of this program,” said Westhaver.

The FFD hopes every neighbourhood in Fernie can unite to prepare their homes this summer.

Westhaver was brought into Fort McMurray after the fires had subsided, to study the cause of the wildfire spread. He saw that most of it was due to the ground cover and vegetation that connected each property to the next.

He believes that this summer will be hot, and individuals must prepare.

This coming Saturday, the Fernie Fire Department will be hosting an open house from 2-4 p.m., to inform the public about what they do, give youth a chance to tour equipment, and give parents a chance to learn how to prevent the spread of wildfires.

Official dates for fire prevention workshops throughout the summer will be announced at a later date.

For more information on how you can become a community champion for your neighbourhood, contact FireSmart Canada at or at 780-435-7338.