BC Wildfire Service firefighting crews are not trained or equipped to fight structural fires. However, we can deploy structure protection specialists whose function is to help protect homes and other types of buildings that may be threatened by wildfire.
Structure protection specialists perform the following activities:
- Plan and oversee structure protection tactics
- Set up sprinklers
- Conduct fuel management operations
- Prioritize objectives in critical situations
Structure Protection Units
Structure protection specialists operate out of trailers called "Structure Protection Units" and contain gear such as pumps, hoses, sprinklers and water delivery attachments and tools. These units are strategically placed and transported to areas that may be threatened. BC Wildfire Service owns and operates eight structure protection units, with access to over 40 more through contractors and local fire departments during wildfire season.
Structure protection tactics
One of the most important tactics used in structure protection is to create a "humidity bubble" around a structure. This is done by running sprinklers on and around a structure. Adding moisture to the air increases the relative humidity and reduces the chance that embers and burning debris ignite structures within the bubble.
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.
Frequently Asked Questions
The BC Wildfire Service is mandated to fight wildfires, so its crews are not trained or equipped to fight structural fires. Structural fires produce different hazards and risks that BCWS crews are not able to deal with safely.
When a wildfire threatens structures, the BC Wildfire Service can (in some cases) access specialized resources to help protect those structures through a request to the Office of the Fire Commissioner. These additional resources from local fire departments may include structure protection units (SPUs), engines, tenders, structure suppression crews or other resources.
Structure protection units are generally used in high-risk areas. The availability of these units is coordinated by the BC Wildfire Service and its structure protection coordination officer. Defending structures from a wildfire 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.
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, based on:
- assessing how “defensible” a property is (i.e. whether the unit would be effective if it’s deployed there)
- determining where the need for the units are greatest (based on anticipated fire growth and activity)
- confirming whether structure protection 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 structure protection unit 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.
All of the Type 1 structure protection units 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 a unit 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.