Column

Eva Antonijevic is a program director for the Okanagan Xeriscape Association.

According to Idaho Botanical Garden: “There are not enough fire engines to be at every wildfire. Firewise landscaping and building materials may be the only defense for your home.”

This summer the message for us living in interior B.C. is not if a fire will occur in our area as an abstract concept but dealing with the certainty that wildfires are now a fact of life.

Many B.C. residents have already confronted the reality of fires and have been evacuated from their homes.

Sustained hot, dry conditions increase the possibility of new fires in the days ahead and we need to start thinking about what we can do to protect our homes.

On the gardening side, I’ve recently delved into a wealth of information concerning firewise landscaping and would like to share the highlights.

The goal is to reduce the vulnerability of buildings and property to wild fire. A firesmart garden can be achieved by installing a firewise landscape design – using non-flammable plant and mulching materials, and by maintaining garden plants and lawn areas properly to lessen the risk of fire ignition.

Firewise Landscaping breaks the land around the building into three zones. The first, most critical zone is a 10-meter circle surrounding the house. Highly flammable materials acting as fire fuel should be removed.

Planting low growing perennials that are both water-wise and fire resistant in islands mulched with pea gravel reduce potential ignition.

Installing alternative eco-lawns and/or green groundcovers that are less water demanding could be installed. Patios, rock planters and stonework also act as excellent fuel breaks and increase fire safety.

The second zone stretches a further 30-metre circle from the structure. Any fuel should be reduced.

This is achieved by thinning understory shrubs and limbing up or removing the existing trees spacing them at three to six metres between crowns to reduce the possibility of a crown fire.

Consider planting deciduous shrub and trees whenever possible as these have lower flammability then conifers, which contain oils and terpenes.

Examples of highly flammable plants that are frequently used in Okanagan landscapes are cedars, junipers, Leyland cypress, blue spruce and ornamental grasses, though any plant that has been inadequately cared for can become dry and brittle, therefore fire prone.

Fire resistant plants have succulent leaves (sedum and iceplant), green stems, compact growth form, high moisture content, high soap content (soapwort, soapweed yucca and snowberry) or salt content (salt bush, Halimodendron halodendron).

The third zone is an area beyond the 30-meter circle from any structure and extends to 100-metres and beyond.

Many urban gardens do not extend this far however houses on large acreages should thin or reduce vegetation so fires will be of low intensity and more easily extinguished.

I highly recommend reading the latest B.C. edition of the Home Owners Fire Smart manual published by the BC Ministry of Forests, Forest Protection Branch at www.bcwildfire.ca.. Hard copies of the booklet are available at the RDOS main office at 101 Martin St., Penticton.

You are welcome to attend OXA’s upcoming tour of the unH2O Demonstration Xeriscape Garden in Kelowna where I will address components of Firewise Landscaping, on Wednesday, Aug. 23 from 7 - 8 p.m.

Additionally you can attend a Firewise Landscaping presentation at the Summerland Gardens on Sept. 30 from 10 - 11:30 a.m.