Fort Smith has a high level of risk from wildfires says a fire protection consultant who visited town last week.
“There are issues of tidiness throughout the community that are going to lead to some potential problems (in the case of a forest fire),” said Al Roach, who has done wildfire consulting for the Alberta government and municipalities in that province since 2003. He was assessing the vulnerability of Fort Smith and its infrastructure.
Roach said that of all the town’s major infrastructure, the hospital is at the highest risk because of its cedar-shingle roof. Cedar ignites easily, making it particularly vulnerable to falling embers.
Asphalt shingles will get damaged, but are not as likely to burn if embers land on them.
He said embers falling in front of forest fires are the most important factor causing buildings to burn.“When you have embers falling on the community anything that will ignite easily, like cured grass, woodpiles, construction materials or lumber stacked next to houses will quickly turn into a structure fire,” Roach said.
Another consideration at the hospital, he says, are the construction materials from the current renovations.
The NWT Power Corporation’s community power generating station is “pretty safe,” he added, although the electrical substation across the street is at-risk because of the extensive amount of flammable materials on the adjacent lot.
Roach explained that in situations where forest fires enter a town, all it takes is for one house to go up in flames and within seconds that fire can spread to adjacent buildings.
He said one way communities can lessen the risk of destroyed property is by putting yards in order. The key is to keep flammable materials, such as sticks and lumber, away from homes.