Nelson city council has changed some of its construction and landscaping bylaws to help make the city more resistant to wildfire.
The changes are based on the understanding that a fire in the city is more likely to be started by an ember shower that could travel up to two kilometres, rather than by a wall of flame advancing on the city. In other words, the entire community is at risk from a nearby wildfire, not just the homes adjacent to the forest.
The new restrictions are all based on FireSmart, a nationally accepted set of principles about fire behaviour and how to lower fire risk to structures.
Mayor John Dooley told the Star he’s pleased council made this move, and the next step is education.
“It is one thing to have these ideas and pass the bylaws,” he said, “and a whole other story to get the message out to people so they understand the need to make this kind of shift.”
City-wide planting restriction
Under the revised bylaw, no coniferous trees and bushes may be planted within 1.5 metres of homes and structures. This new rule will apply not just to new construction but to new landscaping surrounding existing buildings.
Failure to comply could lead to a fine of $200 but Dooley says enforcement is not the issue; it’s education and awareness.
“There is a penalty, but enforcement does not work very well,” he said. “But we will be checking. Good information and consultation works better than enforcement, though.”
Another restriction will apply only in the city’s new Development Permit Area 3, located around the outermost parts of the city that border on forests (see map) and it applies to new buildings only.
A non-combustible surface must extend at least 1.5 metres beyond a new building including outbuildings and decks. This surface could include gravel, brick or concrete, but not woody shrubs or trees.
Fire resistant plants and materials as well as maintenance for existing trees and vegetation must extend to 10 meters from the building. Within that 10 metre zone, coniferous evergreen trees that are to be retained in this zone must be pruned to keep branches two metres above the ground and spaced three metres between crowns.
A third restriction will also apply only in Development Permit Area 3 (see map) for new buildings.
Wood shingles or shakes will not be permitted. Eaves, attics and under-floor openings must be screened. Wood and vinyl siding will not be permitted. Windows must be double-paned or tempered.
There are also restrictions related to chimneys, decks, and porches.
“That is a huge shift,” Dooley said. “Fire retardant materials are critical.”
He said vinyl siding is made from petrochemicals “and we want to reduce the use of those products. They have aesthetic appeal but they have no structural integrity or value against fire.”
On all new development permits (for a house, an addition or a deck, for example) within Development Permit Area 3, the city will require a covenant be registered on title ensuring property owners build and maintain their properties in accordance with FireSmart principles.
Dooley said that in 2010 the city carried out wildfire fuel reduction in some forested areas within city limits, such as in Art Gibbon Park, the forested area above the cemetery, and in the Fort Sheppard Drive area.
Awareness of the need to fireproof the city has gradually increased since then, he said.
“We knew as time went by, with information coming from public works and the fire chief, that we had a lot of work to do within our municipality as well. This is the type of work that residents themselves should be taking to protect their own homes and their neighbours.”
Dooley said city planning staff can give residents advice on fire resistant landscaping or building materials.