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Hot weather sparks wildfire concerns in Columbia-Shuswap

Columbia Shuswap Regional District prepares for wildfire season early
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Ranchero-Deep Creek Fire Department and the BC Wildfire Service firefighters took quick action to subdue the Violet Creek fire north of Grindrod near the Larch Hills Forest Service Road on Aug. 9, 2021. (CSRD Fire Services)

Higher than normal temperatures are sparking wildfire concerns throughout the Columbia Shuswap Regional District.

“We’re only in May but it feels like July,” said CSRD FireSmart Coordinator Len Youden, who noted the province has identified Crown land throughout the entire regional district, in general, as being at high risk for wildfires.

With every square inch of the CSRD in the wildland urban interface, the same risks apply to private properties where flammable vegetation and other combustible items near the home are the biggest risk because of embers from nearby wildfires.

Youden pointed out that embers from a wildfire can travel as far as 10 kilometres, depending on how hot the fire is, how high the embers go up into the air and how significant the wind is.

“If an ember travels 150 metres into the sky, which is not that high, and a 16-km wind can move those embers 500 metres, imagine how far they could go if the fire is hotter, the embers go higher and we have stronger winds,” Youden said. “We regularly see them travel 10 kilometres on a hot fire with strong winds.”

While the CSRD has no control over what owners do on their own properties, the regional district has three wildfire specialists and 13 local fire department resources, who are FireSmart technicians who will visit residents when requested and provide them with free assessments and make recommendations on how to mitigate risks on their properties.

“They don’t go in and do the work, but they educate at a broad level and work with residents and communities to develop action plans,” he said.

The CSRD received a $550,000 grant from the Union of British Columbia Municipalities’ Community Resiliency Fund to carry on FireSmart activities in 2023 and, thanks to a $200,000 grant ($100,000 a year for two years) from the Columbia Basin Trust, the regional district has hired Revelstoke structural firefighter Ross Goddard to deliver the program in Electoral Areas A and B. He can be reached at wildfiremitigationcolumbia@csrd.bc.ca. In the Town of Golden, Fire Chief Mike Pecora is Fire-Smart accredited and will provide the same free service.

Residents in Electoral Areas C, D, E, F and G can make a request for a wildfire risk assessment by sending an email to CSRD.bc.ca/firesmart or to firesmart@csrd.bc.ca.

Residents in Sicamous can access the FireSmart program by emailing firesmart@sicamous.ca and in Revelstoke by sending an email to lmarfleet@revelstoke.ca.

In Salmon Arm, the FireSmart program is delivered by Tyler Stevenson at 250-803-4065 or by email to estevenson@salmonarm.ca, or Carmen Guidos at 250-803-4067.

Guidos says he and Stevenson are happy to help residents and neighbourhoods mitigate their wildfire risks.

“People can feel it’s a daunting task and so often, it’s where do I start,” he says, noting three Salmon Arm neighbourhoods are now recognized as being FireSmart.

The British Columbia FireSmart “Firesmart Begins at Home Manual” provides detailed information on reducing potential impacts of a wildfire and is available online at firesmartbc.ca. Some of the recommendations include keeping roofs and gutters clean, moving firewood away from the house, moving combustible items from under decks and cutting grass along fence lines.

Back at the regional district, Youden said CSRD and British Columbia FireSmart are hosting a Farm and Ranch Wildfire Preparedness Seminar from 9 a.m. to noon June 3 at the Falkland Morners Club at 2948 Churchill Rd. in Falkland.

Youden said that while farms and ranches can be complicated properties to prepare for and defend during a wildfire, there are valuable tools, information and resources available to help. Among the resources is a provincial pilot project.

The Wildfire Preparedness Stream is offered in partnership with BC Wildfire Services and FireSmart BC. Successful applicants may receive between 25-50 per cent cost-share reimbursements for selected on-farm Projects up to a maximum of $35,000. Details are available at https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/industry/agriculture-seafood/programs/extreme-weather-preparedness#1.

The free Farm and Ranch Wildfire Preparedness Seminar is open to all farmers and ranchers in the regional district but registration is required. For more information, or to register, email firesmart@csrd.bc.ca or call 1-888-248-2773.

“There are lots of resources available and we want people to take us up on using them – all of it is free,” Youden added, noting that taking action to mitigate risks, both individually but ideally as a community, have been proven to reduce damage and destruction. “We already have crews out; we need to get in front of it.”

READ MORE: Golden Farmers’ Market starts its summer season June 14

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