The Rock Creek/Westbridge fire was a devastating event for those that lost their homes, and, as the rebuilding begins, some fire protection experts believe there are questions that must be asked.
One of them is “Could the damage have been significantly decreased through better fire preparedness?”
According to Darren Hutchinson, a Bridesville-based fire-fighting trainer, the answer is a resounding “yes”, as illustrated by the survival of many homes along the largely devastated Highway 33 corridor.
Some of those dwellings were protected from the fire in part because of the unpredictability of the blaze, which seemed to arbitrarily leapfrog some properties while razing others. Many that survived, however, in some instances in pristine condition, did so because of the owners’ diligence in making their properties “safe,” by following some very simple yet effective measures.
For motorists and cyclists travelling the once-pristine thoroughfare that takes visitors along the highway from Rock Creek to Westbridge, it is, especially for those viewing the aftermath of the fire for the first time, a truly heart wrenching experience. Much of the forest is now made up of charred columns, many of which will survive as trees, though thousands more destined to be felled as part of a cleanup that will likely take years.
Not far along Highway 33 from Rock Creek, an unexpected sight greets travellers. The home and property belonging to Alex Ganescu stands like an oasis in the middle of a war zone, almost completely untouched by the flames that ravaged properties around his on Aug. 13.
Ganescu bought the large lot 10 years ago and has been working to make it fire-resistant ever since. He transformed a dusty weed patch into a lush green lawn, which is kept watered and mowed throughout the summer months and acts as a natural suppresser of a wild grass fire. As well, he limbed trees up to a height of more than two metres to prevent flames from igniting their canopies transforming a grass fire into something much more destructive.
Only steps away from Ganescu’s lot lay the charred remains of a neighbour’s house, surrounded by burned-out trees, one of which exploded as the fire reached extreme temperatures on that hot and windy afternoon. The flames, however, were halted as soon as they reached his well-maintained lawn, and failed to ignite the majority of the manicured trees that line the property.
“When people around here saw what I was doing with the lawn and the trees they laughed at me,” Ganescu said, “but I knew that my work would pay off eventually.” Ganescu’s was not the only property to escape the wrath of the fire; several other homes in the area were designed to be fire safe through the trimming or removal of foliage and keeping the dwelling well clear of combustibles such as firewood and even innocuous items like grass welcome mats.
Hutchinson was instrumental in the implementation of fire-preparedness initiatives for the community of Anarchist Mountain, which resulted in its attainment of FireSmart Canada accreditation, and would like to see all communities in rural Boundary follow suit.
“It takes little more than an afternoon’s work to vastly improve a home’s ability to survive a wildfire,” Hutchinson said, “and the financial cost is minimal. Neighbours can get together and pool their efforts and eventually make an entire community much less vulnerable to the potentially catastrophic results of a wildfire.”
Hutchinson, an experienced firefighting educator, feels it is crucial for this fire-preparedness initiative to go forward, and hopes to be working alongside the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary (RDKB) in organizing educational sessions to allow residents the ability to better protect their homes from wildfires.
RDKB Area E director Vicki Gee, herself a Bridesville resident, is in full support of Hutchinson’s goal of “helping something positive emerge from the negative impact of the fire,” and has made it known that there is funding available for such a project through the Strategic Wildfire Prevention Initiative, a program funded by several provincial organizations. Gee will be applying for the FireSmart grant as soon as it is determined how large a zone within the district might be eligible for the grant. The application deadline is Nov. 30.
While Hutchinson stresses that making a community FireSmart can be fiscally-neutral and easily accomplished if residents are willing to join forces and do the work necessary to help prevent another disaster like the Rock Creek/Westbridge fire, he looks forward to working with the district to help bring the initiative to life
The first training session is tentatively slated for November, and details will be released in the Times when available.