All Things Fire

All Things Fire: The June 9th Cortes Virtual Community Meeting

At the June 9th Cortes Virtual Community Meeting, Regional Director Noba Anderson and five guests talked about all things fire.

Shaun Koopman, SRD

Shaun Koopman is celebrating his four year anniversary as the SRD’s Protective Services Coordinator. He and the Health Officer are the only staff that travel throughout the Strathcona Regional District (SRD), from Cortes Island to Kyuquot

“I’m on call 24/7 to support emergency operations and activities . anything from flood, pandemic, earthquake, wildfire, always ends up on my desk. Co-ordinating exercises, applying for grants, working with the wonderful volunteers. …” he explained.

In the podcast above he talks about:

  • The recently completed wood chipping program (10-12 tons of chips removed from the island). 
  • Modernizing the Cortes Wildfire Protection Plan; a Klahoose Wildfire Plan
Coastal Western Hemlock Biogeoclimatic Zone – courtesy Ministry of Forests

“What we are working on locally is a FireSmart guide to gardening that is specific to our Western Hemlock, the Biogeoclimatic zone. How to incorporate native species; non-flammable vegetation; working with our coastal environment to better retain water. Taking those overall FireSmart principles and adapting them locally,” said Koopman.

Carrie Saxifrage, Cortes Community Forest 

Carrie Saxifrage is the President of the Cortes Community Forest Cooperative

In the podcast above, she discusses how:

  • As a result of increased wildfires and ‘the die off’: BC’s forests no longer sequester carbon. They are net emitters.
  • Increased mortality of cedar and fir trees.
  • How lucky Cortes was “to not have a wildfire during 2015 or 2016, but those super dry years are an indication of things to come.”
  • “We really need to mitigate climate destabilization.”  
  • the proposed pilot project to clean up some areas in Squirrel Cove & Carrington Bay

Jessica Duncan, BC Wildfire Service

Jessica Duncan is a Wildfire Prevention Officer with the BC Wildfire Service, 

“Half of the houses lost to wildfires are because of ember transport,” she said.

In the podcast above, she talks about:

  • Local FireSmart representatives, community assessments &
  • FireSmarting your property: the non-combustable zone. Cleaning out gutters; getting rid of debris around your deck; getting rid of fuel within 10 metres of your home etc.
  • Grants, grant applications and her work with Shaun Koopman

Jeff Belcher, Sunshine Coast Fire Zone

Cortes Island is in the Sunshine Coast Fire Zone.

“We use the closest/best resource policy. So if there was a wildfire on Cortes Island, a crew may come up from Powell River, but there are also three initial TAC (fast response) crews that are based in Campbell River,” said Jeffrey Belcher, from the Powell River office, Sunshine Coast Fire Zone.

In the podcast above, he says:

  • When there are a lot of fires, BC Wildfire Service prioritises their response according to life, property, critical infrastructure, timber and environmental values etc.
  • Cortes Island has a large population and so if a fire broke out here it would be high on BC Wildfire Service’s priority list.
  • There were a lot of fires in 2017, but BC Wildfire Service had a crew on Read Island within 45 minutes to two hours of the outbreak. On the first day “there were air tankers from Kamloops, helicopters from Parksville.” Belcher said Read Island has difficult terrain and it took a while to extinguish this fire.
  • If there was a wildfire on Cortes, BC Wildfire Service would be looking for accommodation and restaurants that can provide food for their crew.
  • In the case of an evacuation, BC Wildfire Service would alert the SRD – which would make the decision and notify the public.
  • BC Wildfires also takes part in tabletop exercises with Regional Districts and local fire departments
  • Find more information, including what you can burn or not burn, and where at
As you can see in the map above, the danger rating is very low today. In fact there are no wildfires in the coastal area – map above is from the BC Wildfire Service.

Eli McKenty, Cortes Island Fire Department

Eli McKenty is Captain of the Cortes Island Fire Department.

In the podcast above, he says:

  • While BC Wildfire Service deals with forest fires, local fire departments are trained to deal with structure and vehicle fires.
  • One way home owners can make it easier for the fire department is improving the access to their properties.
  • Listing available water sources the fire department can use when there are fires.
  • Coordinating with the BC Wildfire Service.
  • The fire department has been considering getting more involved in the FireSmart program. Issues to be decided: are the courses still available during COVID? Would this increase the department’s liability?
  • A large number of homes are saved by roof sprinklers.

Top photo credit: Port Alberni Burn Site by Scott Darbey via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)

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