Wildfire Structure Protection Program

In the winter of 2017, the Government of B.C.'s Structure Protection Program was incorporated into the BC Wildfire Service. Prior to that, the program was a service provided to the BC Wildfire Service by the Office of the Fire Commissioner. The Office of the Fire Commissioner continues to work jointly with the BC Wildfire Service to provide administrative support. 

Sprinkler system set up around a structure

A sprinkler system, deployed from a structure protection unit, creates a “humidity bubble” (streams of water) around a structure.

A structure protection unit trailer houses a cache of equipment that is used to defend structures threatened by wildfire.

Structure protection specialists

The BC Wildfire Service is mandated to fight wildfires, so its crews are not trained or equipped to fight structural fires (i.e. where a building is on fire). However, if a wildfire presents an imminent threat to structures, the BC Wildfire Service may (in some cases) deploy structural protection specialists to an incident. Structure protection specialists at the BC Wildfire Service plan and oversee structure protection strategies and tactics when there's a possibility that a wildfire could encroach into an urban environment. These specialists also employ FireSmart principles that can be very useful to helping to protect homes and buildings in a wildfire's path.

Structure protection units (SPUs)

A structure protection unit (SPU) is a cache of equipment stored in a trailer that is used by trained structure protection specialists to set up sprinklers on and around a structure. SPUs can be effective in reducing wildfire threats to some types of buildings, such as houses, cabins, barns or other outbuildings.

Frequently asked questions

  • The BC Wildfire Service owns and operates six Type 1 SPUs (each unit is capable of helping to protect about 70-80 structures).
  • The BC Wildfire Service owns and operates one Type 2 SPU (capable of helping to protect about 30-40 structures). (In addition to wildfire response, this unit is used to train firefighters and contractors throughout the province in the off season.)
  • The BC Wildfire Service owns and operates one Urban Structure Protection Unit (capable of helping to protect up to 150 structures).
  • Complementing the SPUs owned by the BC Wildfire Service, an estimated 43 additional SPUs are available during the wildfire season in B.C. These units are operated by contractors or local fire departments under standing agreements with the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRO).
  • A key responsibility of the BC Wildfire Service’s Wildland Structure Protection Program (WSPP) is to coordinate the protection of structures during a wildland fire incident. Values are assessed and sprinklers are set up under the direction of BCWS structure protection specialists.
  • The availability of SPUs is coordinated by the BC Wildfire Service and its structure protection coordination officer (SPCO).
  • Defending structures from a wildland fire will not be possible in every situation. An assessment of several factors (including risks to firefighters, fire behaviour, and the availability of resources) will dictate the strategies that will be used.
  • When the BC Wildfire Service determines that there’s a need to defend structures from wildfire threats, firefighters will take appropriate, safe and reasonable tactical actions for which they are properly trained and equipped.
  • Structure protection specialists at the BC Wildfire Service plan and oversee structure protection strategies and tactics when there’s a possibility that a wildfire could encroach into an urban environment. Structure protection units are generally used in high-risk areas.
  • Crew members may place standalone sprinklers (fed by one or more portable water pumps) near or on top of buildings if there’s a possibility that it could become unsafe for firefighters to remain in the area. If the advancing wildfire hits a pre-determined “trigger point”, crew members will start up the pumps and relocate to a safer area.

Structure protection specialists prioritize the deployment of structure protection units (SPUs), based on:

  • assessing how “defensible” a property is (i.e. whether the SPU would be effective if it’s deployed there)
  • determining where the need for SPUs is greatest (based on anticipated fire growth and activity)
  • confirming whether SPU resources are available to be deployed in the area

The safety of first responders and firefighters is a primary focus of the BC Wildfire Service. Other factors that are considered to determine whether a structure will be assessed for a possible SPU deployment include: the wildfire’s rate of spread; the property’s location; how easily firefighters can access the property; and the property’s proximity to the wildfire.

  • Crews working with an SPU set up sprinklers on structures and use portable pumps, hoses and various water sources to create a “humidity bubble” (streams of water) around the structure.
  • The water streams moisten roofs and other surfaces on and around a structure. This application of water is also effective in extinguishing airborne sparks and embers from a wildfire.
  • In addition to setting up a humidity bubble around the structure, crews can use the hoses and sprinklers to set up a “wet line” to slow or stop an advancing ground fire.
  • An Urban Structure Protection Unit is a 20-foot enclosed cargo trailer that contains 1,250 sprinkler heads, which are quickly and easily installed on the eavestroughs of a home or structure.
  • This unit also carries 1,250 50-foot lengths of 3/4” hose that carry water to the sprinklers mounted on the eavestroughs. The water needed for this type of equipment would most likely be supplied by the domestic water system.
  • An urban structure protection unit can be used in a wildland-urban interface (WUI) area where a line of homes may border on a forested area where a wildfire is expected to pose a threat.
  • All of the Type 1 SPUs are initially located and stocked out of the Provincial Equipment Depot in Chilliwack.
  • When the wildfire season starts, the BC Wildfire Service strategically positions these units throughout the province in areas most threatened by wildfires.
  • A structure protection unit may be moved from one property and repositioned to another property that is considered to be at a higher risk of ignition.
  • If an SPU is relocated, this can be a good sign since it may indicate that the wildfire no longer poses an immediate risk to that particular property.