What does Sun Peaks Fire Rescue (SPFR) do to reduce wildfire risk in Sun Peaks?
For starters, each year, SPFR applies to the Community Resiliency Investment (CRI) program for funding for fuel management. The funding, provided by the Union of BC Municipalities, goes towards projects for the following year. Specific areas are prescribed for fuel management, which means they are treated by clearing parts of forests, reducing wildfire risk.
Dean Schiavon, SPFR chief, explained to SPIN that treatment units, or parts of surrounding forests, are generally around residential areas, and the process includes clearing lower tree branches in forests to prevent the spread of wildfires.
“They try to get the branches and the small trees cleared and piled up in the spring and they try to then burn in the fall, depending on burn windows,” Schiavon explained.
Clearing branches prevents fire from going up into the canopy and also makes access easier when crews need to respond to a wildfire, according to Schiavon.
The burn window is dependent on weather conditions. For example, last fall, there was a fire ban that went into October, which prevented burning, and there was early snowfall that also impacted crews’ abilities to access prescribed areas, Schiavon said
Additionally, when fire danger ratings are high in the summer, crews can’t use power tools to clear branches because the they could spark a fire and can only use hand tools to clear in prescribed areas. This slows down the work SPFR does to reduce wiildfire risk.
SPFR also recently received over $165,000 in funding from UBCM for the CRI 2023 FireSmart Community Funding & Supports program.
Schiavon said these funds will go towards replacing Sun Peaks’ existing Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) with a Community Wildfire Resiliency Plan (CWRP), as well as FireSmart initiatives. Some of these include a Community FireSmart Resiliency Committee and purchasing new wildfire response equipment.
Sun Peaks has yet to create a landscape-level wildfire risk plan, which would coordinate responses from Sun Peaks Mountain Resort Municipality (SPMRM) with the province. This plan could include tools such as fire breaks, which are clearings that prevent a wildfire from spreading.
In an email, Schiavon said that after the CWRP is in place, SPFR “will start looking towards increasing the scope and looking outside the core village area.”
Fire Smart properties help prevent property damage
A top priority for residents to prevent their homes from going up in smoke is FireSmarting their properties, according to James Griffith, SPFR’s fire prevention officer.
“I think the big thing for us is the community buying in on fire smart because it’s shown that it doesn’t matter how much fuel mitigation you do in the forest, it’s ember ignition that really has an effect on homes when a wildfire comes through,” Griffith said. “With Lytton, it was ember ignitions on the first home. Once that one ignited, it led to a snowball effect,”
Once an ember cast starts, SPFR doesn’t have enough resources to put each home out, Schiavon explained, and instead, they focus their efforts on protecting properties that stand a chance of surviving a wildfire, which are often those that have engaged in FireSmart practices.
Two community members who sit on strata councils in Sun Peaks explained they’ve engaged in FireSmart to protect their neighbourhoods.
Kim Selinger is on the strata council for Snow Creek Village, and she said her neighbourhood began FireSmarting in 2019 and recently had another assessment with SPFR that offered more insight into how homes can be protected.
“All vegetation should be away from the building,” Selinger explained. “We have decks on the north side of the building that hot tubs sit on, and they touch the building. So if a fire gets to those, it’ll be lighting up the walls.”
In response to learning what needs some improvement in Snow Creek Village, the Strata is putting in a five-year plan and will replace the decks that are aging. Generally, Stratas are responsible for maintaining everything outside of a building Selinger explained, and homeowners are responsible for costs associated inside their home.
“If we fire smart our area, the chance of buildings surviving is much greater,” Selinger said.
Trevor Lott is on the board of directors for Trails Edge Strata council, and his Strata began FireSmart practices in 2014.
“I think there was a year of bad smoke and people in the community became more aware of forest fires,” he said. “I believe Sun Peaks fire department approached all the different property owners… and asked them if they want to attend an information session on how they can become more fire smart to help prevent the chance of wildfire affecting their property.”
They’ve continued with the program ever since, and Lott said while many people love living in Sun Peaks for its natural beauty, changing landscaping practices are an important consideration for protecting properties.
“It’s a bit of a contentious issue with a lot of people because they like to have trees and they come up to Sun Peaks for the natural environment,” Lott explained. “The trees provide a lot of shade, privacy and a natural aesthetic that we want in Sun Peaks. But at the same time, nobody wants to contribute or be the cause of a fire that takes off and gets out of control.”
According to FireSmart BC, certain plants are fire-resistant, like deciduous, or leafy trees, whereas conifers with needles and cones are very flammable and are more likely to catch fire and impact property.
To get your property assessed for FireSmart, contact SPFR at email@example.com.
Help us bring you more local news
SPIN has been able to serve Sun Peaks as its sole news source for over 20 years thanks to the overwhelming support of our community. Join over 126 of your neighbours and become a monthly or yearly member so that we can continue to regularly publish the digital newsletters and stories our readers rely on.