Kaslo FireSmart project creates impact among the younger crowd
What is the story you want to tell local youth about our community, wildfire resilience and climate change?
That’s the question that Kenya Blouin was tasked with in her summer 2023 role as the Village of Kaslo’s Youth FireSmart Coordinator.
“Youth will be the ones navigating our society through climate change,” she says. “The earlier we can prepare them and expose them to the threats of wildfires and the benefits of programs such as FireSmart, the more prepared we will all be to adapt to our changing climate.”
For reasons like this, in 2023 the Village’s FireSmart committee decided to focus on engaging youth. Having just returned home to Kaslo from her first year at the University of Waterloo, Blouin was the ideal person to lead the project, which was supported by the Community Resiliency Investment Program – Columbia Basin Wildfire Resiliency Initiative, a partnership between the Province of BC and the Trust, developed with BC Wildfire Service.
“Blouin had a deep understanding of the Kaslo community, having spent most of her teen years there,” says John Cathro, Columbia Basin Trust Wildfire Resilience Advisor, who helped develop Blouin’s workplan.
Leaning on her own curiosity and creativity, “She really rose to the occasion.”
Because this was the first youth-focused project of its kind in Kaslo, Blouin couldn’t look to what had been done before when it came to engaging youth. Rather, she leaned on partners at the Regional District of Central Kootenay, like Jessie Lay, Wildfire Mitigation Specialist, whom Blouin worked alongside at several FireSmart booths throughout the summer.
She also attended FireSmart BC’s Wildfire Resiliency and Training Summit in May 2023, just one week into her role, finding inspiration in other projects happening across the province.
With Cathro’s input, Blouin realized that it’s best to let youth lead, and decided to build on interest in videography at the local high school.
She hired professional videographer Carlo Alcos to teach the students about filmmaking, and the students attended FireSmart events, interviewed residents, and filmed and edited a video to be shared with other schools in the region to teach students about FireSmart.
Blouin’s engagement with J.V. Humphries students didn’t stop there. She gave presentations to students of all ages, and brought in wildfire professionals to speak about working in the industry and answer questions.
When the outdoor adventure class was fundraising for its Juan de Fuca Trail hike, she hired the students to clear woody debris on a Village lot in the centre of a neighbourhood.
“We were able to not only teach youth about wildfire resilience, but also give them skills and knowledge, such as how to FireSmart a building, what training you need to become a wildland firefighter and more,” Blouin says.
In addition, students collaborated to create a FireSmart banner, which was displayed at the weekly Kaslo Saturday Market, enhancing the FireSmart booth and helping raise FireSmart awareness among the community in general.
Blouin also brought the FireSmart message to the Kaslo Jazz Etc. Festival and Kaslo’s 130th anniversary celebration, among other events co-organized with Jessie Lay and John Addison, Kaslo’s FireSmart Neighbourhood Coordinator. This included a climate-change “art night” hosted at the Langham Cultural Centre, where people came together to reflect on the devastation caused by wildfires across the province and learn about how FireSmart principles can make a difference.
To cap off her summer’s work, Blouin reached out to Wildsight’s West Kootenay Youth Climate Corps, whose members put their knowledge and passion to hard work.
Together, they created a non-flammable perimeter around two important community buildings: the Village office and the seniors’ centre. To do so, they dug up sod and replaced it with the most popular FireSmart solution: gravel. The buildings are better protected, the youth learned by doing, and all community members can view excellent FireSmart examples.
“Having the chance to participate creatively in youth engagement was really fun and refreshing,” says Blouin.
“I roped students into dragging sticks out of the forest and exposed them to what wildfire mitigation work can look like. Now our community understands wildfires and wildfire resilience a little better, and we are better for that.”