Chief addresses fire preparedness in Castlegar and area
After last year’s frightening fire season and the massive fire in Fort McMurray this season, residents are understandably wanting to know what the Castlegar Fire Department (CFD) is doing to protect our community from interface fires.
To clarify, the province defines wildland/urban interface as the geographical point where the wilderness and urban development meet. In the interface, residential homes or structures and vegetation are close enough that a wildfire may spread to structures or a structural fire may ignite trees and vegetation.
So, in Castlegar, some interface falls within the City of Castlegar’s jurisdiction and some falls within the Regional District of Central Kootenay’s (RDCK’s) jurisdiction, depending on whether the forested area lies within the city limits (both fall under the purview of the Southeast Fire Centre).
Castlegar Fire Chief Gerry Rempel said both the CFD and the RDCK have interface fire risk mitigation strategies in place.
“We (Castlegar) have had one since 2008, and it’s reviewed annually,” he said, adding it’s not posted on the city’s website because it includes information like backlines and home numbers to reach other agencies during a crisis.
“We have worked with some property owners to FireSmart their properties – the majority (of interface area in the city) is private property,” he said, explaining this greatly complicates the issue, as the fire officials can’t go on the property, much less make changes to it, without the owner’s permission, except in the event of an emergency. Moreover, many parcels perceived to be public areas (such as the paths behind Kinnaird) are actually privately-owned.
Further complicating the issue is the ripple-effect concern with issues like erosion: for example, one local resident with whom the fire department consulted couldn’t remove vegetation from the bank on his property without a geotechnical engineer’s survey ensuring that doing so wouldn’t undermine the bank itself, which supports a highway.
“You wouldn’t want to remove the vegetation, then have the whole bank swept away during the next good rainfall,” Rempel said.
A final complication in this sort of effort is simple dollars and cents: if the city would like a property owner to FireSmart their parcel, should the city taxpayers then have to foot the bill?
“It can be a costly enterprise,” Rempel said, adding the cost can fluctuate dramatically, depending on whether you need to hire a contractor to survey the area, rent heavy equipment to remove massive deadfalls, pay to have materials hauled away, etc. “There are a lot of factors you need to consider for some of this.”
He said the CFD does work with private property owners to help them with the process, and they promote public education on the issue, for example, handing out booklets at Spring Fling (which you can also get at the fire hall), consulting with residents, and providing important tips and links on their page on the city website (see http://www.castlegar.ca/services_ems_fire_firesafety.php ).
“And if groups wanted us to talk to them, we could schedule something, I’m sure,” he added. “There’s also tons of information online about how to be FireSmart, how to prepare an emergency go-bag, everything you could think of.”
The CFD has also produced an emergency preparedness handbook, available online at http://www.castlegar.ca/pdfs/emergency_preparedness_guidebook.pdf or in hardcopy at City Hall, or check out the city-wide emergency management plan, available at http://www.castlegar.ca/pdfs/EMP_FINAL.pdf
The RDCK has also created an emergency notification system, through which residents can receive alerts via text message or landline calls. To sign up, visit http://www.rdck.ca/EN/meta/news/news-archives/2016-news-archive/sign-up-for-emergency-alerts.html
The Robson Fire Department was this year recognized with an award from FireSmart BC for their excellence in public education and fire prevention.