The COVID-19 pandemic coloured and complicated virtually every aspect of life in 2020, but FireSmart BC pressed on with its mission to prepare the province for future wildfires. While lockdowns and other measures led to significant disruptions, much of our day-to-day work is either outdoors or, increasingly, online. Coupled with the fact that the pandemic began in winter, which is offseason for wildfires in our part of the world, these logistical coincidences gave us the time and space to devise workarounds and retain our ability to make an impact.
And what an impact it was!
The centrepiece of our year was the Spring/Summer FireSmart campaign, launched on April 27 and aimed at homeowners and neighbourhoods across British Columbia. Months in the planning, the campaign’s main theme was built around the real-life experience of celebrity spokesperson Bryan Reid Sr. from the hit HGTV show Timber Kings, which ran from 2014-2017.
- Total impressions (organic and paid) for the campaign: 12,707,000
- Downloads of FireSmart Homeowners Manual: 4,031
- Page-views for Recognized FireSmart Neighbourhoods in BC: 2,774
On Facebook alone, the campaign launch reached some 69,136 users, leading to 4,962 clicks, 455 likes, and 207 shares.
Despite widespread preoccupation with the pandemic, the press release announcing the launch of the campaign soon yielded over 10 press articles or reports carried by Castanet, Daily Hive, the Williams Lake Tribune, and others. In addition, digital banners and video placements appeared on the websites of 14 prominent news outlets serving the most relevant parts of BC, including the Northern and Southern Interiors, the Lower Mainland, and Vancouver Island.
Apart from recruiting our own dedicated Timber King to get out the message, we also found other ways to increase awareness of the threat posed by wildfires, and to demonstrate the effectiveness of FireSmart disciplines and practices.
First and foremost, we launched what you’re reading right now – the FireSmart BC Magazine. This online publication provides yet another channel to show how people can protect their homes and their neighbourhoods against wildfires. The magazine presents FireSmart BC’s priorities and activities from multiple angles, but all share the same overall objective, which is to get people thinking, organizing, and acting. Some of the subjects touched on so far are:
- How neighbourhoods can gain official FireSmart Canada recognition
- How you can assess the risks facing your own property
- Applying for grants to help protect your community
- Testimonials on how FireSmart practices save homes
- FireSmart 101 – an online course for beginners
- Using pandemic time to plan ahead.
We also invested no small amounts of time and energy in updating and expanding the supply of free resources available on FireSmart BC’s website. These include literally hundreds of documents, forms, manuals, videos, visual aids, and other tools to help with awareness, education, organization, planning, publicity, and research. Two of the most popular additions to this extensive toolbox were the FireSmart Home Assessment Video and the FireSmart Your Home Poster.
FireSmart BC also partnered with FireSmart Canada to deploy a furry new mascot – a fox, to be precise – as part of efforts to broaden our audience and help make our messaging more memorable. As with other visual aids, research shows that people of all ages, not just children, can often retain information more effectively when a mascot accompanies the data in question.
People from across the country responded to our request for name suggestions, with more than 500 entries submitted. The winning entry, “Ember”, was sent in by Arlene of Swansea Point, BC, herself a Local FireSmart Representative. Arlene was the first to send the name; however, “Ember” was also submitted by over 50 people from across the country, their profiles available here. Ember is a great name for the FireSmart Canada mascot as embers present the greatest risk to properties from wildfire. We hope this Ember helps ignite a fire of awareness.
We also went after other audiences too, cultivating farmers and corralling ranchers for a dedicated page – as well as guides and assessments for Critical Infrastructure. As Bryan Reid has attested, the threat that most concerns FireSmart BC applies to all structures, not just homes – and so do the solutions we recommend.
Perhaps most importantly, the year 2020 demonstrated that our efforts to educate and inspire are succeeding. We know this because it was a record year for the Community Resiliency Investment Program, which provides grants for nine separate categories of eligible projects, including education, development considerations, FireSmart activities on private land, and fuel management. Overall the program approved some $12.1 million in funding for 123 applicants (among which 51 First Nations) in 2020, helping them undertake a variety of measures to make their communities stronger, safer, and more resilient to wildfires.
Last but not least, we closed out 2020 by laying the foundation for an even better 2021 – and showing our own resiliency in the process. The pandemic forced FireSmart BC to cancel all in-person workshops. Like so many others in BC, we pivoted and adapted the workshops to be delivered online, and just this past December we hosted the very first Virtual Local FireSmart Representative (LFR) Workshop. The experiment was such a success that additional sessions have been scheduled for the first four months of this year. This training imparts crucial knowledge for participants from numerous backgrounds (structural firefighters, First Nations and local government officials, emergency and wildfire management staff, etc.), empowering them to instill FireSmart principles in their communities. Places are limited, and some sessions are already sold out, so check your calendar and book your seat as soon possible by clicking here.
Like so many others across Canada and around the world, FireSmart BC had to overcome less-than-ideal conditions in 2020. We are proud of what was achieved, not just by members of our organization, but also by people from all walks of life who have taken our advice to heart and are using our principles to protect themselves and their neighbours from the threat of wildfire.
Most of all, we at FireSmart BC expect that 2021 will be even better, that we will reach more people, raise more awareness, and spare more families the pain of losing the place where they lay their heads at night. And we hope you’ll help us. Together we can build a FireSmart BC.