Have cedar hedges? Get rid of them. The sooner, the better.

That bit of fire-smart advice comes from two fire departments in the Central Okanagan on the heels of a hedge fire in West Kelowna that came extremely close to torching a mobile home on Friday morning.

It also comes amid news from Environment Canada that precipitation levels and temperatures in B.C. this spring have been respectively lower and higher than normal.

West Kelowna Fire Rescue Chief Jason Brolund said Friday’s hedge fire was started by a cigarette butt.

“I’ve been quoted before as saying cedar hedges are like [candle] wicks,” said Brolund. “They burn like gasoline and they spread fire fast.

“People can clean up underneath and inside [the hedges] because they’re typically all dead inside. They might be green on the outside, but they’re dry inside.”

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Echoing his comments was Kelowna Fire Department fire and life safety educator Rick Euper.

“The biggest thing for people and their homes is to be fire smart,” said Euper, explaining that fire smart is a program to help people protect their residences from fire.

“It’s up to them to make sure they have no combustible materials within a metre and a half of their home, making sure that dry cedars and any cedars or junipers near the home are removed and are replaced with something more what we call fire smart.

“Make sure that wood piles are not next to the home … all those types of things.”

Euper, who is also a fire inspector, said another aspect of fires they worry about is ambers, and where they land.

“If you think of it as a light snowfall, wherever they can accumulate, and if they land on combustible materials, that’s where we’re going to have a fire start,” said Euper.

“If it’s next to your home, you might end up losing your home.”

But what if you really like your cedar hedges? Is there a way to keep them and still be fire smart?

Euper said a lot of landscapers are pressure washing them, which gets rid of the dead material in the middle of the hedges.

“But, like I say, if they’re connected to your home, I’d remove a few of the trees,” said Euper. “They’re not well-suited for the Okanagan climate; they need a lot of water to stay green and they brown inside really easily.

“They’re a fire load that’s waiting to cause a problem.”

Euper had one more piece of advice: Be vigilant in your community.

“Keep your eyes open; protect your neighbourhood,” he said. “If you see something that’s not right, go investigate. If it looks like something is smoking, or isn’t quite right, go and ask your neighbour: ‘What’s that smoke coming from the backyard?’

“And help your neighbours out. That’s the big thing — it’s your neighbourhood to protect. Be vigilant and if doesn’t seem right, call 911.”

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