The Slocan Park fire as seen before 9 p.m. on August 4.

Year in review: More noteworthy news stories of 2014

The Slocan Park forest fire and Nelson Hydro’s tree trimming program are among the items deserving honourable mentions.

Slocan Park forest fire: For one scary night in early August, Slocan Park residents watched as a forest fire on a ridge above their community grew to about 90 hectares, resulting in an evacuation alert for 47 homes. Resident Chris Sapriken found the flare-up “alarming.”

It was enough that, with two kids and my parents, we felt there was too much ground to cover to not be prepared,” he said. “We just packed our bags in case the order comes between now and whenever it’s been put out for good.”

An evacuation order never came. By the following day the lightning-sparked fire posed “significantly less” risk to residents, thanks to immediate action by firefighters, but the steep terrain made it difficult to contain. A provincial incident management team with experience in fires burning close to communities arrived to take command.

They created a machine line, cleared fuel-free areas around power lines and communications towers, and built landing pads for helicopters that drew water from the Slocan River.

The regional district rescinded its evacuation alert after nine days and by mid-month, heavy rain helped squelch the blaze, letting firefighters get the upper hand.

• Tree trimming raises a stink: When Nelson Hydro announced its most extensive tree pruning project to date — removing every limb or branch within three to five meters of a power line — they knew it wouldn’t be popular. Line manager Doug Pickard told city council that while the work would increase safety and reduce outages, it was certain to alarm the public.

“People are going to be concerned about the amount of clearance we’re going for, but it needs to be done. it’s industry standard,” he told them.

Sure enough, when people saw the Y-shaped trees left behind (pictured at left), they were incensed.

“The trees around and in front of our home look like a joke after the pruning was done,” said Susie Duncalfe Chapman. “Very unbalanced and an amateur looking job.”

“I’m sure we all agree that the trees need pruning near the power lines,” Janet Watson said, “but this year it was so severe that it wasn’t clear whether this was an arborist’s doing or just a guy with a chainsaw.”

Not everyone was unhappy, though.

“I think the tree pruning has been done in an excellent manner,” Ann Popoff said. “Unfortunately this should have been done years ago in order for it to have not got to this extreme.”

In September, city council temporarily suspended the program while it met with the contractor to address community complaints. “People are disturbed about why it’s being done and about the health of the trees,” said then-acting mayor Deb Kozak. Although forewarned, she didn’t think people were prepared for such a “dramatic” change.”

The program resumed following a two-week hiatus, with greater emphasis on consulting homeowners before contractors begin removing limbs.

• Meadow Creek forest saga continues: The year didn’t begin or end well for the operation formerly known as Meadow Creek Cedar, although there was promising news in between.

The Ministry of Forests served the company with a notice of license cancellation, ending an arrangement with Blue Ridge Timber of South Slocan to rehabilitate the mismanaged tenure.

However, a Surrey company stepped forward to buy the license and the idled sawmill at Cooper Creek. San Group paid off $150,000 incurred under Dale Kooner and “substantially met” a remediation order. The cancellation notice was rescinded and a suspension order lifted.

The newly-renamed Meadow Creek Forest Products mill reopened following a three-year closure.

However, problems persisted. It turned out Kooner was still a director of the new operation, and a logging contractor and woodlot owner sued and sought liens for money they said they were owed.

Then early one morning in November, the main mill burned (pictured above). Robyn Sedan, whose husband was an electrician at the mill, said she awoke to a “really loud bang” and could see a red glow from her deck. No one was injured but the cause remains unknown. While other buildings are still standing, 18 workers have been laid off. A fund has been established for them at Kootenay Savings in Kaslo.

The insurance company hasn’t yet reported back.

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