BC FireSmart neighbourhoods parry some property damage amid wildfires

Minnie V. Muir

Logan Lake has one of the first neighbourhoods recognized by a national program, where residents have an established plan to reduce vulnerability to wildfires

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The Tremont Creek fire, which has been burning since mid-July and grew by over 45 per cent in one day to over 63,000 hectares earlier this week, came frighteningly close to the Logan Lake area before moving beyond it.

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“We built an above-ground water system,” Logan Lake fire chief Doug Wilson said Tuesday.

Working together, public works and structural engineers boosted water pressure in pumps, added sprinklers and placed giant bladders with capacity for up to 2,500 gallons of water in strategic street locations, but also in cul-de-sacs so that upwards of 10 homes could be sprayed at once.

What should have taken 72 hours to set out happened in just 24 hours, he said.

Also, “it was years of working on putting sprinklers on residential rooftops and fighting hard to clear deadfall, beetle wood, and ridding the fuel load” to starve a fire’s blaze, he said.

Logan Lake, a 60-kilometre drive southwest of Kamloops, has one of the first neighbourhoods recognized by a national program where residents have an established plan to reduce vulnerability to wildfires.

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“The emotional feeling of people in Logan Lake was probably a little less fearful than in other communities that haven’t been so involved with FireSmart,” said Kelsey Winter, program lead for FireSmart B.C., which includes provincial and First Nations organizations that work with the national program.

There’s hope for a shift in perspective, said Winter.

“As a homeowner, you can’t rely on the fire department to come and save you, because there are instances where that’s just not going to be possible because the fire moves too fast or because you’re in a remote area,” she said. “There are now so many fires on the landscape that resourcing is difficult.”

Kelsey Winter, program lead for FireSmart B.C., says ‘there are now so many fires on the landscape that resourcing is difficult.’
Kelsey Winter, program lead for FireSmart B.C., says ‘there are now so many fires on the landscape that resourcing is difficult.’ Photo by Handout

She said two neighbourhoods in Lytton that were also part of the program were left standing, even as most of the rest of the village of 250 residents was decimated when a sudden fire erupted in late June after temperatures hit a Canadian record high of 49.6ºC.

These are wins, but small ones, in a summer of a scorched landscape with 266 wildfires now burning across B.C. and thousands of residents being told to evacuate even as accommodation options are limited and major highway routes closed for safety.

Some evacuees feel angry and abandoned by authorities and left on their own to protect their homes. Clearwater Mayor Merlin Blackwell said Monday on Twitter that the mayors of the Thompson-Nicola Regional District need more Canadian Forces and federal help in the form of “boots on the ground” to deal with evacuations, security and communications, as well as providing generators and drinking water systems.

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B.C. has the most neighbourhoods in the national program of any province, with 50 per cent of the 150 being First Nations communities.

“It’s a grassroots program that depends on volunteers working together,” said Winter. “A neighbourhood is about 50 homes. So it’s not (an entire) community. It really is, if you’re driving down the street, and you look down the road, that’s a neighbourhood.”

Winter said her “biggest preoccupation right now is the state of emergency that we’re in and how risky it is on the landscape regardless of where you are in B.C.

“Even if you live in Vancouver and you’re surrounded by a concrete jungle, embers can travel up to 17 kilometres, and I don’t think there’s many people in B.C. that can say there’s not a group of trees within 17 kilometres of where they live.”

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Winter added: “People tend to think that they’re going to be put at risk by that flaming front, by those very dramatic images on TV, but that’s not what is going to bring the house down. It’s going to be embers and one little spot on your property where they can gather.”

Being part of the FireSmart neighbourhood program involves complex assessments and plans that can take up to six months to prepare. Each neighbourhood has representatives who are homeowners with experience or expertise because they are firefighters or planners.

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Right now, Winter advises all B.C. residents to know the fire danger rating where they live by checking Firesmartbc.ca and taking action from there.

“What we’re doing is quick, rapid assessments of homes and saying, ‘Just move your firewood or your lawn furniture.’ Little things that don’t cost money. They take an hour, but can be the difference of what you’re coming home to after a fire.”

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