SLRD looks to protect neighbourhoods from wildfires

FireSmart program hits the Sea to Sky corridor

It can make the difference between losing a building and saving it, Ryan Wainwright said.

While the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) regularly works to address wildfire hazards on Crown land, it’s landowners who can make a big impact on preventing them from spreading, the district’s emergency program manager said. For the first time in its history, the district is receiving money from the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) and the province to specifically address fire issues on private property.

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“These projects, when done well, will make the biggest impact,” Wainwright said.

The FireSmart Canada Community Recognition Program will provide $10,000 to be put toward projects taken on by local groups. They can include activities such as clearing public areas of wildfire fuel, like firewood piles and brushes bordering households, to training a community FireSmart Representative to continue to assess wildfire hazards. Areas that sign up for the program will earn the FireSmart status upon completion.

“They will work with us and complete one of the projects,” Wainwright said.

The regional district hasn’t finalized the exact layout of the projects just yet, he said — the district received the funding last week. So far residents in Black Tusk Pinecrest and in the Upper Squamish Valley have approached them about participating.

“What we will be doing is taking this to community groups,” Wainwright said.

The spree of wildfires last summer has heightened the Sea to Sky corridor’s interest in the initiative, he noted, adding the regional district came close to calling a number of evacuations. In July, three large forest fires erupted in the Pemberton zone — the Elaho, Boulder Creek and Old Sechelt Mine fires. The Elaho fire grew to cover 650 hectares, eventually trickling out to 15 hectares after five days of intensive firefighting by 70 firefighters.

While the fires caught the media spotlight and aided wildfire prevention awareness, the regional district has a lot of work to do to become more “fire smart,” he said, noting policy, such as regulating fire-proof roofs over wood roofs, is catching up.

“We still have a long way to go,” he said.
All British Columbians living in interface areas have a stake in protecting their homes and communities from wildfire, Greig Bethel, communications officer for the

Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, wrote in an email to The Question.

“Mitigating wildfire risk is a shared responsibility of the B.C. government, industry stakeholders and private property owners,” he said.

The FireSmart program has been well received in the neighbourhoods that have taken on the initiative, Coastal Fire Centre officer Donna McPherson said. Citizens often plan annual block parties to address fire hazards.

Training a community Fire Smart champion is another way to ensure the longevity of FireSmart actions, McPherson said, noting she attended one of the workshops.

“It is a fairly simple plan,” she said of the checklists individuals and neighbourhoods are given to safeguard their neighbourhoods from wildfires.

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