When it comes to landscaping options, Columbia Shuswap Regional District FireSmart Co-ordinator Len Youden strongly advises against the use of junipers and cedars. (Contributed)

When it comes to landscaping options, Columbia Shuswap Regional District FireSmart Co-ordinator Len Youden strongly advises against the use of junipers and cedars. (Contributed)

‘We call them green gas cans’: Shuswap FireSmart co-ordinator urges wildfire-aware landscaping

Firefighters to be at Walmart and Uptown Askew’s May 7 for FireSmart Day

  • Apr. 28, 2022 1:00 p.m.

By Barb Brouwer


As winter finally loosens its icy grip on the Shuswap, landscaping and gardening plans can be put into action.

But as temperatures heat up, so can wildfire season.

In order to help mitigate risk, Columbia Shuswap Regional District FireSmart Co-ordinator Len Youden and City of Salmon Arm Fire Chief Brad Shirley are asking residents to be wildfire-aware when planting and landscaping.

While many choices are available, some beautiful plants are much more reslient than others to fire.

Beware of junipers and cedars, both of which are highly flammable, says Youden, noting the heat is in volatile oils inside the green part of the bush.

“People view them as wonderful privacy fences; they’re green all year round and nice to look at,” he says, pointing out very few people realize how dangerous they can be to their homes. “We call then green gas cans.”

Youden says a lot of dead brown material is often located inside a cedar hedge. And while raking in and around the cedars can help, volatile oils remain.

“Get rid of them,” says the longtime structural firefighter bluntly. “Up to 90 per cent of homes damaged or lost to a wildfire are a result of embers.”

Youden explains that during a wildfire, intense heat creates little explosions and parts of the trees, pine cones, fir cones and other fuel get thrown very aggressively into the air. They can go up to hundreds of feet in the air and travel a considerable distance on local winds.

Most wildfires create ember storms or ember showers, with chunks of burning debris that can measure as large as the size of a fist and be carried well beyond two kilometres.

If they land in something flammable, they can spark new fires. During last year’s destructive White Rock Lake Fire, embers started spot fires greater than 10 kilometres away.

Youden says decorative coniferous plants should not be planted within 10 metres of a home. He also cautions against using bark mulch, which can act as kindling.

“I understand it, but, picking though the rubble of someone’s home, you don’t soon forget it, especially when it could have been prevented,” he says of the popular landscaping options. “We pick on coniferous vegetation because it’s really dangerous.”

FireSmart techs in Salmon Arm and the Shuswap are available to visit neighbourhoods and individual properties to advise residents on potential dangers and safer landscaping options.

“We all love being around trees, we’re not about paving everything over,” he says. “We’re not saying you can’t have them, just be safe about it and have smart vegetation around your home.”

Read more: CSRD offering FireSmart assessments, developing community wildfire plans

Read more: ‘A rousing success’: Shuswap community works together to get FireSmart

CSRD’s FireSmart team includes 13 technicians and works co-operatively with the Salmon Arm team of three.

“We have had some close calls with cedars,” says Shirley. “Last week, a grass fire got into a cedar hedge and it was hot enough to burn the vinyl siding on a house.”

Shirley is waiting for 2022 provincial funding and is grateful to mayor and council for supporting the FireSmart program in the interim.

“They realize the importance of the program and want to make sure we have a good start,” he says, noting that local firm Silvatech has been reducing fuel loads in Little Mountain Park and the South Canoe area and the fire department will be providing home assessments on request. “There is lots more to be done and they are all based on the Community Wildfire Protection Plan. We have prioritized them on population and critical infrastructure.”

Shirley and Youden recommend the province’s FireSmart BC Landscaping Guide, which is available at Firehall No. 3 in downtown Salmon Arm, or at the CSRD head office at 555 Harbourfront Dr. NE. The landscaping guide is also available online at firesmartbc.ca.

Saturday, May 7, is FireSmart Day and technicians and firefighters will be on-site with equipment and information at Walmart and Uptown Askew’s from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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