Forest fire experts: Nelson could burn

Council urged to work with surrounding governments to prepare for the worst.

This 2015 photo shows how close the Sitkum fire came to Highway 3A

Did the Sitkum forest fire get your attention?

According to forest fire consultants Bruce Blackwell and John Cathro, if things had gotten out of hand there Nelson could have easily burned to the ground.

And during their presentation to city council on Monday evening they urged local governments to work together to prepare for the worst.

“Nelson is in my top ten towns in B.C. and Alberta for wildfire danger,” Blackwell told council, summarizing some of the findings of the Community Wildfire Protection Plan Update.

“I would classify Fort McMurray as low to moderate risk. Nelson faces a far greater risk.”

As Cathro put it, “you don’t put out a fire when the flames have started. You start with education”. And now that council knows how serious the situation is, the pair urged them to commit to collaborating with other stakeholders such as BC Parks and the RDCK.

Sitting with them during the presentation to council was Nelson Fire Chief Len MacCharles, who helped fight the 2011 forest fire that razed Slave Lake and forced the town’s evacuation. He knows firsthand how to approachlarge-scale emergency, and how crucial inter-agency collaboration is.

“This truly collaborative approach is both unique and needed to be effective at reducing the risk of wildfire in a meaningful way and will demonstrate leadership in the province,” reads the report.

The trio told council they need to be thinking about things like upgrading their water systems, encouraging homeowners to adopt FireSmart principles on their private land, increasing the training available and setting up a West Arm steering committee that could coordinate wildfire preparedness.

And there’s funding available to make this happen. They pointed to the UBCM Strategic Wildfire Protection Initiative, the Forest Enhancement Society and the Columbia Basin Trust as possible partners.

This isn’t the first time council has heard about the risk of forest fires. Following a series of fires over the course of summer of 2015, climate scientist Mel Reasoner and conservation ecologist Greg Utzig warned that the frequency and intensity of forest fires has spiked in recent years.

In the report “Climate Change and Area Burned: Projections for the West Kootenays”, Utzig predicted that Kootenay residents can expect quadruple to quintuple the average of area burned by forest fires within the next half decade.

The wildfire update presented to council on Monday outlines 32 recommendations to reduce the community’s risk profile, stresses that collaboration with adjacent jurisdictions is crucial, and urged them to prioritize the recommendations in preparation for implementation. That presentation is attached below.

“Municipalities should not sit and wait for the province to solve this. You need to be on an accelerated track,” said Blackwell.

With files from Bill Metcalfe

 

Fire protection plan

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