Firefighters work on a grass fire on the Columbia Flats in April

Firefighters work on a grass fire on the Columbia Flats in April

City presents new wildfire protection plan

New mapping leads to more detailed plan and new recommendations

The City of Revelstoke is presenting a newly-revised, draft wildfire protection plan for public comment in June. The plan is designed to help protect Revelstoke from wildfires, taking steps that include infrastructure protection, education, awareness, fire preparedness, fuel management, emergency response and fire suppression.

The draft ‘Wildfire Risk Mapping Enhancement to the Community Wildfire Protection Plan’ is a revision to a plan first completed in 2006. Members of the Community Wildland Fire Protection Committee felt the fire risk mapping that guided the 2006 plan was inadequate.

New, more detailed risk mapping, testing and assessments have been completed, and with the new information comes a new, revised and expanded list of recommendations. In June, the committee wants your feedback on those recommendations.

Revelstoke city council approved the communications consultation period at their May 24 regular meeting.

Consultants Cindy Pearce and Archie McConnachie presented the 85-page report to council, providing comments for council.

Pearce said the plan was about identifying risks correctly and then dealing with them on a prioritized basis. The first step, Pearce said, was to “have a real good community conversation about this.”

Officials also provided comment in a media release distributed late last week. “The committee has expressed support for the new detailed mapping and recommendations provided by the project team,” said Revelstoke Fire Rescue Services Chief Rob Girard. “We are now seeking input from residents, businesses, and community groups.”

“We can get high and extreme wildfire conditions here in Revelstoke for 20 days a year on average – and for up to 2 months in years like 2003” said plan consultant Archie McConnachie, retired manager of the Revelstoke wildfire base and a member of the project team. “We all need to ramp up our preparedness and start reducing the wildfire fuels in forests on our properties and around the community.”

Revelstoke averages 22 days of ‘high’ or ‘extreme’ fire danger annually, notes the report. In some years, the danger period is extended. For example, in 2003, the fire danger rating was high for 12 days and extreme for 41 days.

The plan contains too many recommendations to list here. Here are some highlights:

– Address risks to the city’s water system

– Protect communications networks

– Hold annual FireSmart workshops for property owners

– Review new subdivision plans for wildfire issues

– Research and implement new wildfire development permit areas, setback bylaws, fireproof roofing rules

– Explore incentives for homeowner to FireSmart their properties

– Expand distribution of FireSmart information

– New wildfire signage at all city entrances

– Prompt media stories during high fire danger season

– Continue with wildfire fuel management demonstrations

– Enforce forest closures

– Continue and expand school education programs

– Put wildfire signage at all recreation sites and trailheads

– Expanded wildfire training for fire hall personnel

– Clarify communications amongst firefighting agencies

– Create landscape-level fuel modification breaks in high-consequence locations

– Continue debris management

– Apply for provincial funding for fuel treatment for high-priority areas adjacent to the city

– Improved communication between agencies in regards to evacuations

– Host a wildfire emergency exercise

– Improve trail-building standards to permit wildfire suppression crew access

– Inform CSRD residents about driveway access requirements for fire equipment

– Create a rehabilitation plan in the event of a wildfire in community watersheds

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The draft plan also takes a new look at risks to Revelstoke Mountain Resort (RMR), which opened after the previous 2006 wildfire plan was completed. Many of the recommendations are the same as above, with a few extras. While the wildfire risk to the base area at RMR is listed at ‘moderate consequence,’ the report notes there is a high wildfire probability in the mid-elevations of the western face of Mt. Mackenzie.

Special recommendations for RMR include:

– Continue to place covenants and fire planning requirements for FireSmart practices on new developments there

– Education and awareness programs for property owners

– Clarify jurisdiction and responsibilities amongst agencies to prepare for the event of a fire

– Debris management at construction sites and along lift and gondola lines.

“Before a summer season is implemented RMR will need to plan for expanded wildfire awareness education and preparedness, including smoking and campfire restrictions, gondola access points, and mountain evacuation,” states a report summary.

How are we going to pay for costly fuel management work? Pearce noted the B.C. government in April announced $25 million in new funding for wildfire fuel management activities, in addition to other existing funding.

“In 2009, we saw firsthand how fuel management helped reduce the intensity of the Glenrosa fire in West Kelowna,” said Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations minister Steve Thomson in that April media release.  “I hope that local governments recognize the benefits of community wildfire protection plans and take advantage of this funding to make fuel management a priority in community planning.”

The plan is available for review starting May 30 on the city’s website (www.cityofrevelstoke.com).

The first general public presentation takes place at the fire hall on June 14, starting at 6:30 p.m., with a presentation at 7:30 p.m.. The fire chief, Community Wildland Fire Protection Committee members and other stakeholders will be present to answer questions.

Next are a series of community level meetings. The Clearview and Johnson Heights meeting is June 20, 7 p.m. at the Coast Hillcrest Hotel. The Arrow Heights and Airport Bench meeting is June 27 at 7 p.m. at Arrow Heights Elementary. The Begbie Bench meeting is June 28 at 7 p.m. at the Nordic Ski Lodge.

The public review and comment period runs until July 8.

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City council also approved fuel management work in Columbia Park at their May 24 meeting. They approved a communications plan for the fuel management project in that neighbourhood and also approved phases two and three of a wildfire management demonstration project area. That demonstration project began last year.