Municipality updates wildfire protection plan, adds fire breaks

Sun Peaks Mountain Resort Municipality (SPMRM) is continuing work on a long-term goal of creating more fire breaks between Whitecroft and the resort. 

For years councillors have discussed creating a break on the mountainside. Now, with additional funding from a Union of B.C. Municipalities grant, their contracted forester is making plans to include fire breaks (also known as fuel breaks) in the update of the overall Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP).

Bruce Morrow, registered professional forester, said a fuel management program was started at Sun Peaks by the regional district in 2009. The program was pushed by Sun Peaks Resort LLP (SPR) before SPMRM was incorporated and took over the responsibility. 

Over the years projects have included forest fuel management through activities such as thinning brush, removing debris or trees and cutting branches at a certain height. 

Morrow said in addition to new breaks and treated areas, the new CWPP will include revisiting sites which were completed years ago to maintain them. 

He added it will help address issues cropping up related to increases in spruce and douglas fir beetles in the area.

“Things are evolving, we have to get more aggressive than in the past…we have to manage it because we want fires to stay on the surface (where they are easier for crews to fight).

“We’ve completed almost 200 hectares here from Whitecroft up,” he said. “Sun Peaks has been really proactive and done a really good job on maintenance projects and new areas.” 

The breaks, specifically, are designed to create a place where fires would be low intensity and easier to fight. They also provide areas which are easier to access in the event of a fire. 

Morrow aussaged concerns around clear cutting where guests make their first impression of the mountain. 

“Some (fuel breaks) are clear cuts; that’s the most aggressive,” he said. “Or you can have a patch of clear cuts, then forest, then an opening…we have to look at aesthetics, especially around Sun Peaks…We use a combination of timber harvesting and hand treatments.” 

Morrow explained the work is especially important along the road as it’s a spot where it’s likely for a fire to start and it needs to be protected as the main evacuation route. He also said any fire along the road or in Whitecroft would also likely move east and north with the wind, towards Sun Peaks. 

“It’s a very valid concern.” 

Fire breaks and other work undertaken by foresters is being complemented by a campaign by Sun Peaks Fire Rescue (SPFR) to get homeowners and stratas to protect  their properties. 

Fire Prevention Officer Dean Schiavon began working with stratas this summer by recruiting representatives and has his eyes on individual homes next. He said it’s important to understand there isn’t just one solution to minimize the impact of wildfire. 

“The proposed fuel breaks have the potential to greatly enhance the efforts Sun Peaks residents are starting to undertake in turning their neighbourhoods into FireSmart recognized communities,” he said. “It takes everyone working together using different strategies, such as the FireSmart program, forest fuel mitigation and fuel breaks, which will ultimately help Sun Peaks survive a wildfire.”