The 2020 FireSmart Canada road trip

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FireSmart BC recently teamed up with our partners from FireSmart Canada for an epic road trip, visiting FireSmart Recognized Neighbourhoods in each of British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan.  Setting out on the first Saturday of September, members of the FireSmart video team clocked more than 5,000 kilometres over the course of a week, documenting some exceptional FireSmart achievements and getting to meet the dedicated people behind them along the way. The amazing footage that resulted is being used to produce feature videos that will tell the unique stories of these communities, hopefully inspiring others to follow their examples and apply for the FireSmart Canada Neighbourhood Recognition Program.

One of the countless breathtaking vistas taken in during the road trip.

Our intrepid team started off in Wadin Bay, a community adjacent to central Saskatchewan’s Lac La Ronge. In 2015, Wadin Bay became Saskatchewan’s first FireSmart Canada Recognized Neighbourhood and has a significant history with both wildfire prevention and response. Previous wildfire threats motivated many residents to work towards FireSmart recognition, with homeowners applying FireSmart principles to their properties and the community even building its own fire hall. And just in time, too: a few months after its official FireSmart Recognition, the community was hit by a dangerous wildfire. Wadin Bay lost three structures to the flames, but many felt the damage would have been much more extensive had they not worked so dutifully to implement FireSmart principles beforehand. Neighbourhood Champion (and Fire Chief) Shaun Bergsveinson and his family were generous with their time, showing the team around the area and even providing a chilli lunch to counter the chilly “early Fall” temperatures.

Generous hosts: Neighbourhood Champion Shaun Bergsveinson with his sister, Michelle Gale.

The next stop was 950 kilometres away (just up the road in Northern speak) in Marten Beach, Alberta, a small cottage community on the north shore of Lesser Slave Lake and another area that is no stranger to wildfire. Neighbourhood Champion Dan Tarney’s passion for FireSmart was unmistakable as he showed the team around Marten Beach and introduced friends and neighbours. Acutely aware of the vulnerability of their community, residents were extremely enthusiastic about FireSmart. Their eagerness helped our video team capture some great footage of the annual FireSmart cleanup event. Local Firefighter and Emergency Medical Responder Ryan Coutts was kind enough to do an interview, as were representatives from Alberta Wildfire. Tarney also led our team to other FireSmart home-owners, then let them finish with a shoot of his own house, which was custom-built to FireSmart standards. 

Dan Tarney was a driving force for Marten Beach’s FireSmart recognition – and a helpful guide.

The other Alberta stop was in beautiful Banff, this time just a stone’s throw (if you can throw a stone 700 kilometres) south of Marten Beach. An interview with Fire Chief Silvio Adamo focused on some of the innovative FireSmart programs implemented to protect one of the country’s most picturesque communities. As Chief Adamo explained, the Banff Fire Department has worked with both the local municipality and FireSmart Canada to roll out several incentive programs, encouraging homeowners to replace flammable cedar shingles with safer roofing materials and swap out conifers for less combustible trees or shrubs. The team also met with the Neighbourhood Champion for Banff’s Valleyview section, Chris Worobets, who has enlisted his local condo owners’ association to help implement FireSmart principles on a subdivision scale.

Worobets, right, with fellow Valleyview resident Les Young.

Following a mercifully short but visually awe-inspiring drive of just 150 kilometres, our crew arrived next in British Columbia’s stunning Columbia Valley. First up, came a visit to the Shuswap First Nations Reserve, just north of the city of Invermere. Brad Munroe, Sierra Stump, and other members of the Shuswap Band were gracious hosts, highlighting some of the innovative solutions they have come up with to manage potential fuel sources for any wildfires. They also showed our team some of the FireSmart work carried out on individual homes.

Forearmed against wildfires: members of the Shuswap Band’s FireSmart Team have led the charge to safeguard their community.

The final official day of the road trip began in Invermere’s Rushmere section. There, the team met with Neighbourhood Champion Ken MacRitchie and other property owners, all of whom had done exemplary work on their homes. FireSmart adoption has been widespread in this tight-knit community, and residents were keen to welcome their guests and show off all the preventative work they had done.

MacRitchie, with Rushmere homeowner Rick Pearson and FireSmart BC’s own FireSmart Education Officer Amanda Reynolds.

Last but not least was another jewel of the Invermere area, CastleRock Estates. CastleRock is a newer and larger development, but that hasn’t stopped Kathleen O’Neill and Ben Mitchell-Banks from campaigning tirelessly to get their neighbourhood on board. The two have worked hard, both within their neighbourhood and with local officials, to grow the presence of FireSmart principles within the development – and the effort is paying off.

FireSmart power couple Mitchell-Banks and O’Neill serve as co-Champions.

A lot was learned during this incredible road trip, and not just about the incomparable landscapes of the Canadian west. The main takeaway was a realization of how unique each neighbourhood was in terms of size, geography, and home types, and therefore how universal the principles of FireSmart really are. Provided local champions and their neighbours are committed to the process and passionate about applying it, FireSmart can dramatically reduce the threat posed by wildfires in virtually any setting. Many interviewees expressed the feeling that the program had not only made them feel safer and more comfortable as property owners, but also helped bring their communities together by providing a common purpose.

This particular adventure is over, but the work of editing all the footage shot by our team is still in progress. Be sure to follow FireSmart BC and FireSmart Canada on social media to keep up with our news. Several videos will be released in the coming weeks, each demonstrating how these neighbourhoods in western Canada have applied FireSmart principles – and how easy it is for yours to do the same.

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Provincial funds are available to help protect communities against wildfires, but the application deadline for 2021 is fast approaching.

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