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Drought conditions contribute to summer wildfire concerns for Columbia-Shuswap

CSRD looks to purchase 300 pairs of backpacking boots and other wildland apparel for firefighters
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)

The Columbia Shuswap Regional District is shopping for 300 pairs of backpacking boots and 330 sets of shirts and pants to better equip its firefighters for wildland interface fires.

Through the province’s online BCBid portal, the regional district has posted a couple of requests for quotes. In one, it is seeking quotes from qualified vendors for the supply and delivery of 300 pairs of Scarpa SL Active backpacking boots. The boots sell for around $400 a pair. In a separate listing, the Columbia Shuswap Regional District (CSRD) is seeking quotes to provide pricing for 330 sets of wildland shirts and pants.

CSRD protective services team leader Derek Sutherland said the items are to equip firefighters with the regional district’s 13 fire departments. Funding for the apparel comes from a provincial grant intended for the purchase of new gear, specifically for wildland firefighting.

“Right now, they use their structural firefighting boots – those are quite heavy and they work, and they certainly are designed to protect their feet, but they’re not ideal for walking around in the bush,” said Sutherland. “They’re hot and they’re heavy and they’re hard to work a long day in. And we have coveralls for them, Nomex fireproof coveralls, and again, you know, they get the job done but they’re not ideal.”

While wildfires are BC Wildfire’s jurisdiction, Sutherland said CSRD firefighters do address interface fire concerns.

“Those are forest fires that are threatening built-up areas or homes or businesses that are maybe threatened by a wildfire,” said Sutherland. “So if we have something in our area, we’ll address it so that it doesn’t create a structure fire.

“This is just getting them the gear they need to do it more comfortably and working those long shifts out on the hot days, it will be a lot more comfortable for them and safe.”

Read more: Heavy rain coming to the Okanagan, more flooding possible

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Regarding the coming summer, Sutherland has received word from BC Wildfire and Emergency Management BC that it could be another challenging wildfire season.

“There is some significant concern about the ground water levels and about drought conditions creating a situation that may result in a worse-than-average fire year,” said Sutherland. “So we’re prepping for that.”

In the meantime, the CSRD and the Shuswap Emergency Program are focused on potential flooding. Sutherland said the regional district’s Emergency Operations Centre is now active at Level 1.

“There’s no actual flooding going on right now in the CSRD, but the Salmon River is on Flood Watch and they’re potentially forecasting some rain… over the weekend,” said Sutherland, noting the prediction isn’t certain, but the goal is to plan for the worst and hope for the best.

“We’re geared up and ready to respond to any flooding that happens this weekend or throughout the spring,” said Sutherland. “If we get a big rain storm, especially this time of year, we’re particularly worried about rain on snow events, because there’s still snow at the higher elevations, and if those areas are warm enough that precipitation is falling as rain, it melts the snow at a faster rate and then you’re not only dealing with the moisture from the rain swelling the rivers and creeks, you’re also dealing with the rapid snow melt swelling the rivers and creeks, which can overwhelm the banks. And then we’re into full flooding situation.”

The CSRD is supplying sand and sandbags at Silver Creek and Falkland firehalls, making resources available for anybody looking to mitigate flooding conditions along the Salmon River.
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