Many communities include wildfire risk reduction measures in local development permit regulations that apply to new construction and they pursue a variety of approaches to inform and encourage action by existing property owners. A concern is that most existing property owners fail to act. The best outreach and awareness programs continue to result in some ongoing community vulnerability to fire. Wind can blow embers into the community and the embers may land on a vulnerable property, introducing fire into the community. This results in loss for existing homes that did not introduce protective measures and also increases the risk that fire will damage those that did invest in protection. Swan Hills has a population of 1,300 people and is located in Northern Alberta in Big Lakes County. While its location among boreal and sub-forests makes it home to unique flora and fauna, this also puts it in a very high wildfire risk zone. Being surrounded by older growth spruce and pine, there have been wildfires in the past. In 1998, the town was evacuated because of an encroaching fire. Although the fire did not enter the town, it came close enough that evacuation orders were activated. Knowledge of this threat prompted Council to add a FireSmart component to the land use by-law in 2012, to include requirements that all property owners must take simple cost-effective actions to reduce their risk of fire damage. The combined action by all property owners enhances the level of protection for the community.
In 2012, the Town of Swan Hills, Alberta, implemented municipal development bylaws based on the FireSmart principles to help reduce the town’s vulnerability to forest fires. This decision was informed by the town’s earlier experience with a near-miss from a forest fire in 1998. That year, a fire in the surrounding forest burned close enough to the town that a general evacuation was ordered. While ultimately Swan Hills was largely undamaged by this event, it nonetheless precipitated a greater awareness of the threat that wildfire posed to the town. Situated in the boreal forest belt of Northern Alberta, Swan Hills is surrounded mostly by coniferous forest, placing it in a high-risk zone for future wildfires. The effects of climate change will only exacerbate the existing problem, as evidence has demonstrated that the length of the fire season, as well as the likelihood and magnitude of forest fires, are all expected to increase. Swan Hills was a national leader in some aspects, as it is believed that it is the first community in Canada to enact a law stating that all new roofing must be comprised of fire-resistant materials, among other notable requirements.