Sun Peaks Mountain Resort Municipality (SPMRM) is applying for a research grant through Forest Enhancement Society of B.C. that could change how Sun Peaks Fire Rescue approaches forest fire fuel mitigation.
SPMRM wants to explore chipping and spreading some burn piles – piles of wood thinned from a forest – they collect as fire bans extend longer into the fall, reducing the time fire crews can burn collected fuel. It could also prevent unintended consequences from pile burns that happened last year. On Mt. Morrisey, just over one hectare of trees in two different groves were destroyed after pile burning last fall by forest fuel management crews, contracted by SPMRM, spread underground.
These burns were conducted in October after the province lifted the fire ban and after the first snowfall. As a result of the burns, the fire went underground along Vista Trail and Black Bear Trail, spreading through the root systems as snow fell in late October and early November. While fire crews created fire breaks to prevent the underground smouldering fire from spreading, trees were destroyed by root damage and cut down as a result.
The resulting response was shown to council during a presentation on March 7 by Garnet Mierau, a registered forest professional representing Forsite, a company contracted by SPMRM.
Maria Austinson lives in Sun Peaks and frequently enjoys these trails in the winter, and she recalls an early snowfall meant she could enjoy the forested trails on Mt. Morrisey. She and a friend were snowshoeing on Black Bear Trail in early November 2022, heading toward Mcgillivray Lake, when they came across wildfire crews.
“I spoke with two wildfire servicemen that were up there just off of the Black Bear Trail,” Austinson said. “They explained that due to the short window of burning, this is what can happen, and now the fire [was] going on underneath the piles.”
The following spring in May, Austinson explored the trails again and saw red dots on trees indicating they would be removed where she was snowshoeing and burnt tree roots, which were later cut down.
“It was devastating. It just broke our hearts…the Vista [and Black Bear] Trail, I think, are one of the most beautiful areas to ride your bike, or Nordic skiing, hike, snowshoe,” she said.
Seeing the groves cut down sparked a desire to know why it happened in the first place and what would be done to prevent it in the future.
Dean Schiavon, SPFR chief, told SPIN the destroyed grove wasn’t a result of the size of burn piles but environmental conditions.
“The piles were no different than any piles in previous years. It was a combination of factors – not a lot of precipitation in the fall that we normally get, and the snowfall didn’t provide enough precipitation to prevent that as well,” Schiavon said.
He said SPMRM is applying for a research grant to chip and spread because burn windows are decreasing, and moisture levels are lower in the fall than they were previously, giving fire crews little time to burn collected debris.
Schiavon doesn’t know if or when the research grant SPMRM applied for to chip and spread will be approved and SPFR is evaluating whether they will burn this fall.
“We’re still evaluating after what happened last year. We’re going to be making better calls on when we do burning and making sure that moisture levels are adequate so we don’t get that ground creep. We want to try to avoid that as much as possible. That wasn’t a situation that we want to see continued,” he said.
Editors note, Sept 7, 9:00 a.m.: The previous version of this article stated Sun Peaks Fire Rescue oversaw the burns in 2022, and that they happened before the first snowfall. It was a contracted company that oversaw the burns through Sun Peaks Mountain Resort Municipality, and they happened after the first snowfall. SPIN regrets this error.
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