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Letter: Cost of saving Nelson from wildfires

To The Editor: 

Nelson's fire chief submitted a report summer of 2021 regarding ways to mitigate wildfire threats.

The Chief named water as the only proven effective way to effectively battle wildfires once they flare. The Chief referred to rooftop sprinklers and large capacity pumps to move water from the lake to areas of the City under threat.

In both instances, though, getting water where it’s needed is hampered by lack of pipe, pumps and infrastructure. Nelson is blessed with ample water tantalizingly close but unusable.

Our City is regarded as one of the most at-risk wildfire communities in all of Canada. We’ve all experienced enough choking smoke in recent years to know that the threat is real and just last summer we saw the damage from wildfires. More than 1,600 fires burned nearly 8,700 square kilometres of land, making 2021 the third worst on record in terms of area burned.

And we all recall the Fort McMurray wildfire of 2016 that destroyed 2,400 homes and caused 88,000 residents to evacuate. In 2021 California wildfires claimed 3,500 homes. Community destruction can, and does, happen.

The question is: what can Nelson do, as a City and as residents, to be proactive before disaster strikes?

If water can minimize the threat of losing the city, how much would it cost for pumps to feed pipe, hydrants, and water cannons along the City uphill at the forest line?

Could the rails to trails road accommodate high volume water pipe on ground, protected under concrete encasements? 

Cost always emerges as the determining factor, and some will say they can't afford a tax increase. But, what may be the cost of doing nothing?

Could we ever rebuild 1,000 of Nelson's nearly 5,000 homes given limited construction capacity? Alberta and California reveal that communities can be wiped out. Specific costing would help inform the issue.

How much would it cost to install pumps and pipes to move water from the lake to feed a comprehensive fire protection system uphill? $5-10 million?

Big numbers, but not so daunting if spread over all residences and businesses over a period of years. $5 million shared by 5,000 residences is $1,000 each. Amortized over 5 years equals $200/yr. or $17/mo. 

Is that too much money if it would help protect our homes, indeed our entire city?

At a minimum, it would be good to know about fire suppression technology and equipment that is available and the costs involved.

A referendum could make the decision once people were informed with facts.

Steve Bareham, Nelson, BC