The Peachland Wildfire highlighted the importance of good urban planning and the use of Wildfire Covenants to reduce the danger posed by wildfires in the Okanagan. The Ponderosa Golf Course development by TreeGroup acted as an important firebreak to prevent the fires from spreading into the densely populated Princeton residential subdivision. (see news story here)
In many new subdivisions which have been developed since the large Okanagan Mountain Park fire of 2003, local municipalities have mandated that Wildfire Covenants be registered against title to the newly created lots. A Wildfire Covenant is a Section 219 Covenant by which municipalities impose obligations on the landowner to lower the wildfire risk.
A Wildfire Covenant legally requires landowners to:
- maintain a minimum distance of 3m between conifer trees (this may require a homeowner to thin existing trees as they naturally grow much denser than this requirement)
- do not plant conifer trees, only plant small shrubs and deciduous trees;
- prune all low branches (below 3m) on tall trees (over 9m) (this will likely require a homeowner to hire an arborist);
- remove all dead trees, woody debris, branches, and pines needles on the ground, roof and gutters (this is easy, keep the yard clean);
- use fire resistive materials for exteriors, roofs and walls of all structures (no wooden shingles or shutters);
- ensure house address is visible (to assist emergency personnel);
- have an evacuation plan (know alternative routes);
- for ground cover use pea gravel, lava rock or other non-combustible material rather than combustible materials such as bark mulch;
- water your lawn and have a hose that can reach the roof(with a sprinkler) and around the house; and,
- do not store flammable materials near the house.
The Wildfire Covenant puts landowners on notice that they live in an interface area and there is a risk of wildfire. Under the terms of the covenant, the municipality will not be liable in the event of wildfire to the homeowner.
Wildfire Covenants can be found in most new subdivisions including Ponderosa, Wilden, Kettle Valley, South Ridge, Kirschner Mountain and the Ponds. These Wildfire Covenants assist the entire neighborhood in reducing the naturally occurring wildfire risks associated with living in the sunny Okanagan.