BC Gears up for Wildfire Community Preparedness Day

FireSmart has made deep inroads in British Columbia, and the province is once again gearing up for this year’s Wildfire Community Preparedness Day on May 1, 2021.

As the name suggests, the primary purpose for the day is to increase a community’s ability to survive a wildfire, primarily by reducing the fuel available for a fire to keep burning – and spreading. Secondarily, the exercise of planning, organizing, and carrying out this kind of work helps raise awareness among the general population, especially people who live on or near the wildland-urban interface. In addition, working together to protect shared interests can help forge stronger bonds within a community, something that can be of enormous value, before, during, and after an emergency.

To help get all this done, communities that draw up plans to harden their defenses can apply for a $500 grant from FireSmart Canada and their partners. Grant funding can be used to support costs associated with Wildfire Community Preparedness Day, like buying or renting equipment, hiring service providers, purchasing food and drinks for volunteers, etc.

Although applications for 2021 grants are now closed, it’s never too early to start thinking about your 2022 submission. Official FireSmart Neighbourhood Recognition is not a prerequisite for eligibility, but experiencing Preparedness Day often prompts participants to take the next step. For more information on the official Recognition program, please click here and here.

The BC communities taking part in this year’s Wildfire Community Preparedness Day – including several that skipped last year’s because of the COVID-19 pandemic – form a diverse collection of settings in virtually every nook and cranny of the province. Each has its own reasons to be concerned about wildfire, its own plan to be prepared, and even in some cases, its own date(s) for the undertaking. May 1 is the official date on FireSmart’s calendar, but each participating neighbourhood can schedule its own activities for any time up to October 31, 2021, although the great majority take place during the run-up to the summer fire season.

Fraser Lake, which falls under the BC government’s Prince George Fire Centre, whose jurisdiction covers a sprawling area in the central and northeast parts of the province, is one great example. The village has become especially vigilant since having been directly impacted by wildfire in 2018, and self-reliance is key: the surrounding Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako is slightly larger than New Brunswick but has less than 5% of its population. Accordingly, the community has taken numerous steps to reduce its vulnerability. Local FireSmart Representative Dave Christie added to his own skill-set by taking Wildfire Mitigation Specialist training, and has helped Fraser Lake build a relationship with the government’s Community Resilience Investment Program. The plan for Preparedness Day is to remove dead trees, trim back branches, and otherwise thin the fuel load along the popular local trail system.

Another motivated participant is Logan Lake, where FireSmart has been active for years and is closely integrated with other community organizations. Falling in south-central BC’s Kamloops Fire Centre, the town enjoys strong awareness and motivation, having won a Wildfire Protection Achievement Award from FireSmart Canada in 2013.

For this year’s Wildfire Community Preparedness Day FireSmart volunteers will actually spend a month teaming up with members of the Wellness, Health, and Youth Society, a local charity, for a COVID-compliant door-to-door campaign with a one-two punch. First off, the campaigners will help residents join the Blue Bottle program, which uses a fridge magnet to tell first responders where to find potentially life-saving information on allergies, health conditions, and existing prescriptions as soon as they arrive at a home, even if the occupants are unconscious or otherwise uncommunicative. Additionally, the same information packet, focused on seniors but to be dropped on every doorstep in the community, will also contain FireSmart literature. In addition, a special trailer staffed by FireSmart members will visit different parts of the town to answer any questions residents may have, as well as to offer free Home Ignition Zone assessments of their properties.

Another hotbed of FireSmart participation is the remote village of Granisle, also lying within the sparsely populated Bulkley-Nechako district but falling under the jurisdiction of the Northwest Fire Centre. Once a mining area but now increasingly popular with retirees, Granisle is focused on education and cooperation for Wildfire Community Preparedness Day. Proceedings will begin with an information session about FireSmart and its techniques for reducing risk in the wildland-urban interface. Participants will then be assigned particular areas around the community for clearing, pruning, or thinning to mitigate fire risks. In addition, a chipper will be made available to ensure that any wood debris can be reused, and participants will be treated to a socially distanced BBQ after their day’s work, as well as a raffle.

Far to the south, in the West Kootenay region and therefore part of the Southeast Fire Centre, the Iron Colt neighbourhood on the edge of Rossland also plans to make the most of Wildfire Community Preparedness Day. Local volunteers want to enhance their neighbours’ understanding of FireSmart principles – and get them working on practice, too, by reducing fuel loads in the wildland-urban interface along the community’s perimeter. Here too, organizers will put funds toward a chipper, along with refreshments for participants and, possibly, the services of a professional arborist.

Then there is Spider Lake, a cottage community on Vancouver Island covered by the Coastal Fire Centre – and a FireSmart Recognized Neighbourhood since 2019. Here participants will be part of a model event in which each household provides its own labour, removes fuel materials from its own property and adjacent areas, and sorts them for chipping or Red Bin disposal. Drop-offs will be time-scheduled to ensure social distancing, and organizers will tap multiple actors for various resources, including the Bow Horn Bay Volunteer Fire Department, the Regional District of Nanaimo, and the Town of Qualicum Beach.

Each of these communities face their own unique set of social, economic, and even geographical challenges, but they all have two things in common: all of them exist in the shadow of great danger due to the threat of wildfire – and all of them are doing something about it. If you think it might be time for you and your neighbours to take similar measures, get started by learning all the ways FireSmart BC can help.

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