Xeriscaping and Firesmart Landscaping on Private Properties

The City of Kamloops, British Columbia, is embracing a creative landscaping program designed to increase resilience to wildfire while simultaneously decreasing the amount of water used by residential properties. Located in the Thompson Valley of the British Columbia interior, Kamloops is classified as a semi-arid region that is prone to fires. While the City is attempting to increase fire resilience in the community, there are substantial legal hurdles in place preventing them from enforcing resilience-enhancing measures on private properties. Changes of this kind must be enacted willingly by the property owner. To that end, the City has undertaken a campaign to convince citizens of the practical and aesthetic benefits of xeriscaping. This is a particular subset of landscaping that focuses on the use of plants that are designed for arid environments. In addition to needing less water (and thus reducing local water consumption rates), these plants also retain water for longer than most non-arid plants, helping to increase their fire resilience. The fire resilience of this landscaping design can be further improved with the application of general FireSmart principles, which are also being communicated to the public. The program is relatively new, but there have been at least 50 recorded fire resilience assessments conducted by the City for homeowners to date.

Understanding and Assessing Impacts

Several approaches can and should be used to reduce the risk of ignition at the property level during a wildfire. Several opportunities involve the building itself, including the importance of using fire-resistant roofing, siding materials and chimney spark arresters. It is equally critical to consider landscaping strategies around the house to eliminate any plants and trees that could act as fuel during a wildfire. Landscaping affects the risk of ignition, can introduce pathways to spread fire and may provide fuel to sustain the fire. Xeriscaping and FireSmart landscaping are two approaches that can be used to reduce ignition risk and the spread of fire around a property. These strategies promote the use of plants that do not require a great amount of water to grow and as such tend to do well in dry climates. In addition to using less water, a Xeriscape garden requires less maintenance, including less weeding, fertilizing, pruning and mowing. Further, as these plants have the ability to conserve water, it makes them fire resistant, which contributes to reduce fire risk around a property. Kamloops is a city of approximately 100,000 inhabitants located in south-central British Columbia. This region is characterized by a dry climate and the presence of a predominantly coniferous forest cover, both increasing the likelihood of a wildfire in the area.

Identifying Actions

A few years ago, the City of Kamloops’ Natural Resources crew started examining which landscaping approaches would be optimal for the community considering its very dry climate. They turned to Xeriscaping as a way to encourage the planting of species that require very little water to grow. As the crew was developing the Xeriscape program, they were approached by the fire department, which was keen to combine the Xeriscaping approach to a broader FireSmart landscaping strategy for the community and to promote both simultaneously. While some fire burnings were noted within the Kamloops Fire Centre jurisdiction this summer, the City of Kamloops has not been threatened directly by wildfires in recent years. The Natural Resources crew and Fire Department worked together to create a brochure that combined a list of xeriscape plants with broader FireSmart landscaping strategies. Beyond the recommended types of plants, the document also touches on optimal planting locations to create a fuel free area around the home. The brochure developed by the City also examines the types of mulch that should be used around plants and recommends the use of gravel mulch, rock mulch, or a combination of plant mulch and decorative rock mulch to reduce fire risk. The use of fire resilient mulch is important to reduce the risk that burning embers blown by the winds during a fire may bring fire into the community.

Implementation

The Xeriscaping and FireSmart landscaping program is now shared between three departments in Kamloops (Natural Resources, Fire Rescue and Parks), who all share the responsibility of the continuous development and marketing of the program. In order to promote this initiative, The City of Kamloops Parks Department has provided a demonstration garden that combines Xeriscaping and FireSmart planting strategies so residents can see how this approach can lead to aesthetically pleasing results. City staff have also been attending various local events including home shows and farmers market to share information around the program with residents. When asked if the City faced any challenges through the development and promotion of the program, Kirsten Wourms, Natural Resources Crew Leader for the City of Kamloops, mentioned that while the City considers wildfire risk reduction as an important priority, a lot of the actions that can be done to reduce fire risk have to take place at the private property level, which is where the City cannot do any work beyond promoting best practices. It is with this spirit in mind that the campaign “Do your part, be FireSmart” was created to increase the public’s sense of ownership when it comes to reducing the overall fire risk faced by the community. Beyond the landscaping program, the City has been offering FireSmart assessments of individual properties free of charge. They initially started by focusing on three high-risk areas where City staff went door to door to share information about various FireSmart strategies and how they should be applied in the wildland urban interface. Homeowners that wanted to go through the FireSmart assessment of their properties were also offered the possibility of having any flammable materials located around their homes shipped away at no cost.

Outcomes and Monitoring Progress

The City of Kamloops has only had the opportunity to conduct 50 FireSmart assessments at this point, which makes it challenging to evaluate the uptake rate of the Xeriscaping and FireSmart programs promoted by the City.

Next Steps

Research has consistently found great potential and value in fire risk reduction through landscaping action and the municipality remains proactive in the promotion of wildfire risk reduction activities. This includes videos, radio advertisement and social media campaigns that will be released in the spring to further communicate the benefits of individual risk reduction actions at the property level. In addition, City staff continues to participate in community events hosted by groups such as community gardens and naturalist clubs.

Resources


Understanding and Assessing Impacts

Several approaches can and should be used to reduce the risk of ignition at the property level during a wildfire. Several opportunities involve the building itself, including the importance of using fire-resistant roofing, siding materials and chimney spark arresters. It is equally critical to consider landscaping strategies around the house to eliminate any plants and trees that could act as fuel during a wildfire. Landscaping affects the risk of ignition, can introduce pathways to spread fire and may provide fuel to sustain the fire. Xeriscaping and FireSmart landscaping are two approaches that can be used to reduce ignition risk and the spread of fire around a property. These strategies promote the use of plants that do not require a great amount of water to grow and as such tend to do well in dry climates. In addition to using less water, a Xeriscape garden requires less maintenance, including less weeding, fertilizing, pruning and mowing. Further, as these plants have the ability to conserve water, it makes them fire resistant, which contributes to reduce fire risk around a property. Kamloops is a city of approximately 100,000 inhabitants located in south-central British Columbia. This region is characterized by a dry climate and the presence of a predominantly coniferous forest cover, both increasing the likelihood of a wildfire in the area.

Identifying Actions

A few years ago, the City of Kamloops’ Natural Resources crew started examining which landscaping approaches would be optimal for the community considering its very dry climate. They turned to Xeriscaping as a way to encourage the planting of species that require very little water to grow. As the crew was developing the Xeriscape program, they were approached by the fire department, which was keen to combine the Xeriscaping approach to a broader FireSmart landscaping strategy for the community and to promote both simultaneously. While some fire burnings were noted within the Kamloops Fire Centre jurisdiction this summer, the City of Kamloops has not been threatened directly by wildfires in recent years. The Natural Resources crew and Fire Department worked together to create a brochure that combined a list of xeriscape plants with broader FireSmart landscaping strategies. Beyond the recommended types of plants, the document also touches on optimal planting locations to create a fuel free area around the home. The brochure developed by the City also examines the types of mulch that should be used around plants and recommends the use of gravel mulch, rock mulch, or a combination of plant mulch and decorative rock mulch to reduce fire risk. The use of fire resilient mulch is important to reduce the risk that burning embers blown by the winds during a fire may bring fire into the community.

Implementation

The Xeriscaping and FireSmart landscaping program is now shared between three departments in Kamloops (Natural Resources, Fire Rescue and Parks), who all share the responsibility of the continuous development and marketing of the program. In order to promote this initiative, The City of Kamloops Parks Department has provided a demonstration garden that combines Xeriscaping and FireSmart planting strategies so residents can see how this approach can lead to aesthetically pleasing results. City staff have also been attending various local events including home shows and farmers market to share information around the program with residents. When asked if the City faced any challenges through the development and promotion of the program, Kirsten Wourms, Natural Resources Crew Leader for the City of Kamloops, mentioned that while the City considers wildfire risk reduction as an important priority, a lot of the actions that can be done to reduce fire risk have to take place at the private property level, which is where the City cannot do any work beyond promoting best practices. It is with this spirit in mind that the campaign “Do your part, be FireSmart” was created to increase the public’s sense of ownership when it comes to reducing the overall fire risk faced by the community. Beyond the landscaping program, the City has been offering FireSmart assessments of individual properties free of charge. They initially started by focusing on three high-risk areas where City staff went door to door to share information about various FireSmart strategies and how they should be applied in the wildland urban interface. Homeowners that wanted to go through the FireSmart assessment of their properties were also offered the possibility of having any flammable materials located around their homes shipped away at no cost.

Outcomes and Monitoring Progress

The City of Kamloops has only had the opportunity to conduct 50 FireSmart assessments at this point, which makes it challenging to evaluate the uptake rate of the Xeriscaping and FireSmart programs promoted by the City.

Next Steps

Research has consistently found great potential and value in fire risk reduction through landscaping action and the municipality remains proactive in the promotion of wildfire risk reduction activities. This includes videos, radio advertisement and social media campaigns that will be released in the spring to further communicate the benefits of individual risk reduction actions at the property level. In addition, City staff continues to participate in community events hosted by groups such as community gardens and naturalist clubs.

Resources