A wildfire expert says that among BC communities with more than 10,000 people, Nelson has the highest wildfire risk.
Forestry consultant Bruce Blackwell of North Vancouver announced in Nelson two years ago that the city was among the top ten most vulnerable. Now he says he has updated his data and created a variety of different ways of describing the risk.
The graph shown above is based on an analysis of the forest within ten kilometres of a city’s limits. Blackwell used GIS and a provincial fuel type inventory to analyze risk.
“Every forest cover polygon is converted into a fuel type and then we know how it will burn. We created a distribution of fuel types for that 10 kilometre area as a proportion of the total area.”
Every fuel type is assigned a classification from high to no risk.
There are some smaller communities that are potentially at higher risk than Nelson but a fire would not affect as many people. Among Kootenay towns with fewer than 10,000 people, some, like Sparwood, Elkford and Fernie are in more danger than Nelson. See chart below.
“These are different ways of expressing it and a different way of ranking, I mean you could rank it many different ways, by the number of historic fires (for example) but I think this is a measure of potential fire behaviour around specific communities and it emphasizes the need to get busy.”
Get busy doing what?
Blackwell recommends a system of development permit areas so governments have the power to manage hazards on private land.
About 14 per cent of the land within 10 kilometres of Nelson is privately owned, and governments have no power to make a private landowner do anything to prevent wildfire. But those landowners should look at the safety of their building materials, Blackwell says.
“We have many people who want to live next to the forest but they are not hardening their structures, so they are vulnerable to fire. People need to focus on how they build their homes.
“If everyone in the Kootenays that had a wood roof changed it, or (built with) roofing that is not vulnerable, they would have an 85 per cent chance of surviving an interface fire. A lot of people don’t get that.”
He said this is an important part of the FireSmart principles that municipalities and regional districts are attempting, with less than satisfactory engagement, to promote among homeowners. The principles are not just about the building envelopes but also about nearby combustibles, surface vegetation, ladder fuels, forest overstorey, and setback from the edge of slopes, all of which private landowners can control.
“People think the forest service is going to come and save them when there is a bad forest fire. And they should be thinking about saving themselves. This is not to say the forest service is not doing anything. But last year in BC was a classic example: the resources we had were overwhelmed with fire and you can throw half a billion at it and look what happened.”