FireSmart BC looks back on a difficult but groundbreaking year

In 2021, British Columbia suffered a deadly and destructive wildfire season. At its height, hundreds of fires burned across the province, leaving communities with no option but to evacuate. It was a season of hard lessons, where many realized how ill-equipped they were for the threat. However, there was a silver lining. As people came to realize they needed to know more about how to prepare for wildfires, many began to find the resources needed through FireSmart BC. So while news of disasters spread, the resources of reached more British Columbians than ever before—raising awareness of the danger and showing how easy it can be to protect themselves and their homes.

Even before the June-July “heat dome” that produced several days of the highest temperatures in Canadian history, our annual Spring Campaign set a few records of its own, reaching more people than all previous campaigns while simultaneously convincing viewers to take action. FireSmart BC used every tool at its disposal, spreading our message with everything from social media posts and a new podcast to direct-mail leaflets and even variable-message traffic signs. The result: millions of social media impressions, tens of thousands of households reached directly, thousands of downloads, and hundreds of thousands of views on critical content.

2021: A Year In Review

Throughout the year, we also were very active on the ground, registering 35 new FireSmart Recognized Neighbourhoods and training over 600 Local FireSmart Representatives who guide communities toward greater wildfire resilience. In addition, some 300 people attended FireSmart BC’s first-ever symposium, and we produced more than two dozen videos of various lengths, all aimed at awareness, education, and/or preparedness for various contexts. We also looked ahead, introducing a new mascot—Ember the FireSmart Fox—whose appeal to children will help ensure that the next generation grows up with the knowledge to keep themselves and their community safer in wildfire season.

Wildfire Community Preparedness Day was another notable success, prompting broader participation and, therefore, better resilience in areas across the province. We continued our extensive cooperation with key partners, too, including local, provincial, and federal authorities, as well as the private sector and both individual First Nations communities and umbrella organizations serving or representing Indigenous people across BC. Among other things, this collaborative effort has secured some $47 million in grants for wildfire preparedness over the past three years.

In 2021, it also yielded a new FireSmart BC Landscaping Guide, which was produced in partnership with First Nations community members, Emergency Management BC, the BC FireSmart Committee, the Union of BC Municipalities, the BC Wildfire Service, and the First Nations Emergency Services Society. A special pilot program saw this guide distributed at two Art Knapp stores, where a unique Plant Tagging Program also helped customers quickly identify the most fire-resistant species for their gardening choices.

When the most dangerous part of the year arrived, the number and magnitude of the wildfires was staggering, but the public response also proved that all our hard work—and that of our partners—had paid off. Social media impressions went through the roof to a whopping 1.5 million, and some 500,000 people watched our videos. Perhaps the most powerful of these was the testimonial of a Mckay Creek resident whose last-minute implementation of FireSmart recommendations saved her home. Virtually all of Erin Morissette’s 160-hectare property went up in smoke, but her house and the area immediately around it survived unscathed, proving what firefighters have long known: the homes that survive really are the ones that were prepared.

Our outreach to print and broadcast media also produced more coverage of FireSmart BC and its goals than ever before, and visits to our website grew tenfold. The unprecedented traffic exposed some areas for improvement, so we also undertook an upgrade of the site, giving it a new look and making it easier for visitors to find what they’re looking for.

These and other achievements would not have been possible without the contributions of our many partners. Accordingly, we have a message for each and every one of them, every participating homeowner, everyone at the BC Wildfire Service, all the First Nations and local governments, and all members of the FireSmart BC team: Thank you very much for all you do.   

Sadly, most experts are convinced that the summer of 2021 was but a bitter foretaste of what climate change has in store for the coming years: as global heating disrupts ancient weather patterns, the conditions that lead to larger, hotter, and more numerous wildfires are becoming more common. Worse, every hectare of scorched forest or grassland releases more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, driving a feedback loop that exacerbates the climate conditions that lead to more wildfires in the first place.

Whatever climate change throws at us, FireSmart BC will keep helping British Columbians to help themselves. We and our partners are already making plans for 2022, and so should you.

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