Understanding and Assessing Impacts
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.