With the BC Wildfire Service recently announcing their prediction of a more wildfire intensive September than usual, the City of Merritt is reminding homeowners of an available resource to increase the wildfire resiliency of their properties. Available to those living in the Bench area, directly adjacent to the heavily wooded North Bench lands, the Firesmart program hopes to increase wildfire awareness and protect BC’s communities and forests.

Since April 1 of this year, there have been over 1300 wildfires in B.C. that have resulted in more than 43,000 hectares burned. At the same time last year, 865,298 hectares had been burned in the province. As crews continue to battle flames across the province, the City is promoting the adoption of Firesmart principles by the community.

“As a single home, if you follow all the FireSmart principles and did all the right work, but the neighbours on either side don’t do the same work or put in the same effort, your home is still at risk of catching on fire from home to home ignition,” said Krista Minar, emergency management coordinator with the City of Merritt.

In addition to the devastating destruction and displacement of forests and communities caused by wildfires, forest fires are also the second largest source of fine particulate matter from wood smoke in the province. According to the Province of BC, these fires can have a significant impact on local air quality, visibility, and human health. Emissions from wildfires can travel large distances and have many harmful effects. While prescribed burns take this into account, severe wildfires can produce a dangerous amount of smoke. Fires often spread from single embers landing in combustible materials. 

“What we know about how wildfires move is that it’s not a ‘wall’ of flames like we sort of imagine. What happens is that embers come far in front of the fire itself. It could drop fire brands all over, so there is nowhere in town that is free of wildfire risk,” added Minar.

Firesmart is a community based program by the BC Forest Safety Council which promotes the collaboration and cooperation of community members to prepare for wildfire season, and its principles suggested to municipalities have been proven effective during events such as the 2021 Logan Lake fire. In 2022, the City of Merritt launched its Firesmart Grant Program. 

The initiative gives eligible applicants in Merritt’s Bench neighbourhood a rebate totalling up to 50 percent of expenses incurred from making FireSmart home improvements. The rebate is capped at $500 per property, and covers improvements including upgrades to windows, doors, gutters, roofs, outbuildings, trees, and other surface vegetation. While the program is limited to Bench area properties in 2022, the City hopes to expand the program in future years. Limited funding is available, so those interested are encouraged to submit their application soon.

For further information on Firesmart programs in the City of Merritt, contact Krista Minar at [email protected], or (250) 378-5626.