Tricia Thorpe recalls the day her hometown of Lytton, B.C., caught fire “like a blowtorch.”
After days of record-breaking heat in late June 2021, she says she could see the whole city on fire from her house.
Before she knew it, the fire was crossing the ridge towards her property. Thorpe and her husband jumped into their car to try to get help, not thinking it would be the last time they would see their home, she said.
“That part was the hardest part,” Thorpe said, while recounting how some of his animals didn’t survive the fire near the junction of the Thompson and Fraser rivers in southwestern Columbia. British.
Nearly nine months after the devastating blaze, Thorpe and her husband are rebuilding their home and other structures on their property – but this time she says they are taking steps to fireproof the buildings to prevent the complete loss of all of their belongings should another fire occur.
How to fireproof a house
Fireproofing is taking steps to make your home as fire resistant as possible, according to Fire Smart BC, a group of organizations that work together to support wildfire preparedness, prevention and mitigation in the province. .
Some recommendations set out in their 19 page manual include: removing low branches and other debris easily ignited by sparks or embers and using non-combustible materials such as clay, metal, concrete and asphalt to build houses.
Thorpe says they followed the playbook to help rebuild their home. So far, she says, they have buried electrical cables under the ground to protect them from future fires.
She also says that they use fire resistant materials such as foam concrete, metal roof and concrete floors to build the house.
“We don’t want it to come in the same direction and take us out again,” Thorpe said. “We will do everything to ensure that this does not happen.”
But fireproofing isn’t just necessary at Lytton. Bruce Blackwell, Senior Partner at BA Blackwell & Associates Ltd. — a forestry consulting firm that works with government, private industry and First Nations — says people in Metro Vancouver should make sure their homes are safe from potential wildfires.
Blackwell says events like last summer’s heat dome show how parched vegetation can become, making it ready fuel for fires.
He says he’s been working on fire-resistance plans for governments for more than two decades, but says most of them have sat on the shelves. He adds that there have been many warning signs in the past.
“Fort McMurray was a red flag. Slave Lake was a red flag. Kelowna was a red flag,” Blackwell said. “You have many fires in California…I’m not entirely convinced we’ve had it.”
Prescribed burns — another solution?
There are other steps that can be taken to ensure wildfires are not as destructive.
Brendan Mercer, information and technology manager at the First Nations’ Emergency Services Society of BC, says Indigenous people used to regularly use cultural burning in the spring and late fall – the practice of lighting low-intensity fires in small, controllable areas to get rid of any flammable material – but colonial laws put an end to this practice.
Mercer says the practice is effective because when a fire hits an area that has already been burned and has no source of fuel, it stops. He says burning strategic areas could help prevent future wildfires from devastating huge swaths of landscape.
He says First Nations are working with the province to bring the cultural fire back.
“It takes a concerted effort, a big effort to reduce risk on a large scale,” Mercer said. “And I think our cultural burn can be super effective going forward.”
Thorpe says she and her husband considered leaving Lytton for good after the fire, but says they returned thanks to community support.
“They’ve been there from the start and without all the help we’ve had from the community, we wouldn’t be anywhere.”