More than 50 West Boundary Area E residents congregated at the Rock Creek Fairgounds on Saturday to take part in a FireSmart orientation session aimed at introducing property owners to the fire-prevention program.
A non-profit, community-driven initiative, FireSmart Canada helps train people living in forested areas to become wildfire-aware by encouraging them to take a series of simple steps to help protect their dwellings and property from fire damage.
Moderated by Bridesville-based Quintech Fire Services principal Darren Hutchinson and Anarchist Mountain FireSmart Committee president Denis Thomson, the meeting was also attended by Regional District of Kootenay Boundary Deputy Fire Chief Dan Derby, Wildfire Management Fire Protection Officers Alvin Boyer and James Katasonoff, as well as regional director Vicki Gee, who helped organize the event.
During the six-hour session, residents were provided with expert opinion on the nature of wild fires, supported by a series of videos depicting the risk to structures during a wildfire and highlighting which materials are more resistant to such an event, as well as a point-by-point breakdown of the steps required to make a home fire smart. Attendees were provided with a comprehensive FireSmart package and given ample opportunity for questions and input during the session.
Residents came from all corners of the West Boundary, including Beaverdell, Westbridge, Bridesville and Rock Creek, to hear Thomson outline the relative ease with which his community attained its FireSmart accreditation.
Anarchist Mountain was struck by a devastating wildfire in 2003, prompting residents to take steps to help protect their homes from such an occurrence. In 2013, a FireSmart committee was formed, helping people learn how to make their homes safer. An emergency communication system was also developed.
Throughout the presentation, both Hutchinson and Thomson stressed the fact that if neighbours combine their efforts with a common goal in mind, making homes and neighbourhoods much more resistant to fire damage can take as little as an afternoon and cost very little.
Among the most logical, yet often overlooked precautionary measure to protect a structure from a wildfire is the simple trimming or removal of foliage within a distance of 10 metres from the building. Making sure that trees are thinned out and pruned from the ground up to a height of two metres can significantly decrease the risk of a fire spreading. During the Rock Creek fire, which, tragically illustrated how most residents were unprepared for such an event, the fire raced unabated up tree trunks into the foliage canopy, which rendered it largely uncontrollable as it moved quickly along Highway 33, leaving dozens of flattened homes in its wake.
In addition to foliage management, which includes ground cover control, keeping a lawn green or replacing grass with gravel or stone can significantly temper the effects of an approaching fire, in some cases halting it entirely as it is denied fuel. The use of wood siding and roofing alternatives such as metal or fibre cement, to name but two, can also go a long way in providing a house with optimum fire resistance.
The West Boundary FireSmart initiative will get underway on May 7, which marks the second annual National Wildfire Community Preparedness Day, on which communities across Canada are encouraged to participate in local mitigation projects to help reduce the risk of wildfire damage to their homes and neighbourhoods.
West Boundary residents will tentatively be gathering at Freeman’s Country Supply in Rock Creek to receive some hands-on training with pruning equipment before setting off for the day to begin making their neighbourhoods much safer in the event of a wildfire. Those wishing to participate or require information regarding the project are asked to contact Vicki Gee of the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary.