Reducing the risks and effects of wildfire

20 communities are implementing 28 projects that will help them prevent or brace themselves against wildfire.

In September 2017, the ?aq?am community experienced a wildfire. It will now be reducing fuel in high-risk areas with support from a wildfire mitigation grant from Columbia Basin Trust.

In September 2017, the ?aq?am community experienced a wildfire. It will now be reducing fuel in high-risk areas with support from a wildfire mitigation grant from Columbia Basin Trust. — Photo courtesy Columbia Basin Trust

(Columbia Basin) – Wildfire can rapidly destroy homes, communities and lives. To brace against this danger—now becoming more of a risk than ever because of a hotter, drier climate—20 communities are implementing 28 projects that will help them prevent or brace themselves against wildfire. These projects are being supported by $822,406 from Columbia Basin Trust.

“Basin communities are part of forested landscapes, which gives us beautiful scenery and rich ecological values but also hazards to communities such as wildfire,” said Tim Hicks, Columbia Basin Trust Senior Manager, Delivery of Benefits. “Communities are well aware of this risk and came to us for help to both prepare for the possibility of these dangerous situations and to reduce their likelihood. This work aligns with our priority to support community resilience in a changing climate.”

With support from the Trust’s Community Development Program, local governments and First Nation communities are implementing projects focused on educating residents about how they can reduce wildfire risks on their properties, managing wildfire fuels, protecting critical community infrastructure and developing emergency response and evacuation plans. The Trust will continue to accept applications from local governments and First Nations until June 30, 2018. To see the full list of projects funded, visit ourtrust.org/wildfiregrants.

Here are a few of the current projects:

Close Call

The First Nation community of ʔaq̓am is well aware of the need to prepare for wildfire. “In September 2017, the ʔaq̓am community experienced a 400-hectare wildfire that threatened property and resulted in the evacuation of 36 on-reserve homes,” said Julie Couse, Director of Lands and Natural Resources. “Approximately 110 individuals were displaced for a period of three days. The Wildfire Mitigation Grant will allow us to treat the highest-priority sites to protect our collective ʔaq̓amnik citizens.”

The community will conduct activities like tree felling, pruning and thinning to reduce fuel for wildfires on 63.4 hectares of high-risk areas, where wildfire may pose threats to human safety, structures, critical infrastructure or cultural heritage sites. It will also do Home Ignition Zone assessments on all on-reserve structures, plus do FireSmart activities with the goal of becoming a designated FireSmart-certified community.

Bring on the Students

The City of Castlegar is taking a collaborative approach to reducing the risk of wildfire within the community by working with students from Selkirk College's Forestry Technology program. Students will conduct FireSmart assessments for private property owners, plus help reduce wildfire fuels on high-risk municipal lands by creating prescriptions and carrying out fuel reduction activities.

Through these efforts, “members of the public will learn the benefits of fire smarting their private properties,” said Lawrence Chernoff, Mayor of Castlegar. “By protecting private assets and the assets of the community, this project will reduce the risk of mass disasters and increase public safety.”

The City of Castlegar will be working with students from Selkirk College's Forestry Technology program to reduce the risk of wildfire in the community, thanks to support from a wildfire mitigation grant from Columbia Basin Trust.

The City of Castlegar will be working with students from Selkirk College's Forestry Technology program to reduce the risk of wildfire in the community. — Photo courtesy Columbia Basin Trust

Creating a Good Example

If you want people to do something, show them how it’s done. That’s one of the City of Fernie’s approaches to reducing the risk of wildfire. It will create a FireSmart demonstration forest, in which residents will work alongside professionals to thin trees and reduce fuels for wildfires.

“This public participation approach will transfer wildfire risk mitigation awareness, knowledge and skills by showing and involving stakeholders, not just telling them,” said Ted Ruiter, Fire Chief and Director of Fire and Emergency Services. “It will encourage them to use skills gained in building the site to reducing vegetation and fuel hazards near their own homes and neighbourhoods, in ways that retain an attractive forest while respecting wildlife and other habitat requirements.”

For the past couple of years, Fernie residents have helped mitigate wildfire by reducing fuels in overgrown areas in and around their homes.

For the past couple of years, Fernie residents have helped mitigate wildfire by reducing fuels in overgrown areas in and around their homes. — Photo courtesy Columbia Basin Trust

Educating and Supporting the Public

From setting up information booths, to doing demonstrations, to speaking to students and recreation groups, the City of Revelstoke will be taking a multi-layered approach to educating the public about how to become FireSmart. The City will also help residents assess their properties and suggest debris removal methods, plus will establish clear guidelines for developers building in areas adjacent to wildlands.

“Since 2006, the City has had wildfire protection activities under way, particularly targeting municipal properties and community infrastructure,” said Dwayne Voykin, Emergency Program Coordinator. “The focus is now on continuing to educate the community about local wildfire risks, especially from human ignitions, helping private property owners reduce their risks of wildfire damage and giving developers clear requirements for new builds.”

In Revelstoke, Cindy Pearce, Community Wildfire Protection Contractor, and Dwayne Voykin, the City’s Emergency Program Coordinator, are helping the City undertake several steps to reduce the threat of wildfire.

In Revelstoke, Cindy Pearce, Community Wildfire Protection Contractor, and Dwayne Voykin, the City’s Emergency Program Coordinator, are helping the City undertake several steps to reduce the threat of wildfire. — Photo courtesy Columbia Basin Trust

The wildfire mitigation grants are just one of the ways the Trust is helping communities adapt to climate change. Learn more at ourtrust.org/environment.

Columbia Basin Trust supports the ideas and efforts of the people in the Columbia Basin. To learn more about the Trust’s programs and initiatives, and how it helps deliver social, economic and environmental benefits to the Basin, visit ourtrust.org or call 1-800-505-8998.

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