Rossland’s FireSmart program holds workshop for Black Bear residents

Residents in Rossland’s Black Bear area are tackling wildfire risk on their properties headlong.

Residents in Rossland’s Black Bear neighbourhood are tackling wildfire risk on their properties headlong as the wildfire danger climbs into the hot, dry days of summer.

Over 20 residents attended a two-hour FireSmart Awareness Workshop offered by Rossland’s FireSmart Communities Program on Sunday, July 9.

Residents learned to assess the wildfire hazard to their Black Bear neighbourhood homes and reduce that hazard by eliminating ignition opportunities on their structures and outbuildings and removing or reducing vegetation with a high ignition hazard where it is located close to homes.

The FireSmart Awareness Workshop is one of several events that the Black Bear residents are undertaking in their neighbourhood to reduce wildfire hazard and become a recognized FireSmart Community under the FireSmart Communities Program.

Earlier this year, a few Black Bear homeowners — led by Black Bear resident Anthony Bell — formed a FireSmart Board and developed a FireSmart Plan under the provincially funded FireSmart Canada Community Recognition Program. This FireSmart Plan focuses resident efforts to reduce fire hazard on their individual properties.

Bell and several other Rossland residents attended a FireSmart Community Champion workshop in the spring, receiving training in FireSmart basics about how to reduce wildfire hazard in their areas.

Bell was enthusiastic about the training.

“There were Community Champions — as the program calls us — from three Rossland neighbourhoods; Iron Colt and McLeod Avenue East are also participating in the program. In half a day we learned how to assess and reduce the wildfire hazards to our homes as well as how to follow the national FireSmart Communities program to achieve recognition status,” Bell said.

That training was delivered by Don Mortimer, a consultant with FireSmart Canada and Rossland resident. Mortimer works across Canada and has trained over 700 fire professionals to work as Local FireSmart Representatives with the wildfire vulnerable neighbourhoods in their respective communities.

Mortimer works with the City of Rossland FireSmart Program and functions as the Local FireSmart Representative for the three active FireSmart boards in the Rossland neighbourhoods.

“We’re working with priority neighbourhoods on the City perimeter right now but will add other neighbourhoods where residents express an interest and a wildfire risk does indeed exist,” said Mortimer.

Mortimer is pleased but not surprised with the Rossland response to the FireSmart Communities Program.

“Rossland has a decade-long involvement with FireSmart initiatives and the City has had a Community Wildfire Protection Plan since 2007 — everyone has noticed the steady progress with wildfire hazard reduction by forest thinning on strategically located City and Crown lands within and around the City.”

Mortimer is excited with the FireSmart Communities Program potential to take those FireSmart hazard mitigation from public land onto private properties.

“This program is run by the residents themselves, taking priority actions on simple steps to reduce the wildfire hazard on their homes and in their yards — they work with a fire professional like myself who recommends specific actions and gets them started. Progressively, by staging annual FireSmart Events like the FireSmart Awareness Workshop Black Bear is holding on Sunday, the neighbourhood reduces wildfire risk and ultimately achieves national recognition under the FireSmart Communities Program,” Mortimer said.

Looking forward, Mortimer sees a strong future for the FireSmart Communities initiative as wildfires become more frequent and intense in response to the effects of climate change on forest conditions.

“Fort McMurray is a tragic example of how wildfires can impact forested communities. There, a community of 90,000 lost 10 per cent of its structures and incurred a loss that ranges from 3.6 to 5 billion dollars depending on who’s counting. It will happen again, and soon. The saddest thing about that incident is that it could have been so easily prevented by compliance with FireSmart guidelines,” Mortimer said.

Post-fire investigations at Fort McMurray are showing that FireSmart structures survived overwhelmingly, with 81 per cent, and a conclusion that if structures on the perimeter of the town at the interface with the forest had been FireSmart, much of the fire-spread from one building to another that led to the vast majority of structure loss in Fort McMurray could have been prevented.

The FireSmart Awareness Workshop provided residents with information from the FireSmart Homeowners Manual – a comprehensive booklet on reducing the potential impacts of wildfire on your home. The booklet was developed by FireSmart Canada and BC Wildfire Service and is available at Rossland City Hall or can be downloaded online at http://www.bcwildfire.ca/prevention/docs/homeowner-firesmart.pdf

Anyone with questions or interest in the Rossland FireSmart Communities Program can contact Don Mortimer, City of Rossland FireSmart Program at dmortimer@telus.net.

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