WIldfire

Are you prepared? The role of citizens in creating communities resilient to Wildfire and other Hazards Emergencies

Welcome to the first of a special series of Folk U Radio done in partnership with Cortes Currents that takes the Folk University model of slow learning, local knowledge sharing, and neighbours sharing with neighbours and combines it with Cortes Currents commitment to covering the news most relevant to our communities at this time. This show is brought to you by the Local Journalism Initiative. – the program funded by Heritage Canada and administered through the Community Radio Fund of Canada .

As smoke fills the air and people told to close the windows after being told to open them to air out viral loads during the pandemic, the question forefront on many minds is “Are we prepared for what’s coming?”

Photo credit: released into public domain by the US Forest Service

On this special two hour live show, first aired on 9/11, a day associated with disaster across North America, Donna MacPherson from BC Coastal Fire Centre and Shaun Koopman from the Strathcona Regional District discuss how Cortes and Quadra are uniquely prepared, or not, for wildfires and other emergencies that may call for evacuation and which ones we will need to shelter through in-place. 

Fire is natural on the forests of the coast. Indeed, most of the forests in this area are healthiest if they burn every ten to 20 years. When fires aren’t allowed to burn naturally, the risk is that these forests become more dangerous and susceptible to out-of-control wildfires that can burn much hotter and spread uncontrollably. The BC Wildfire Service, which is divided into six areas, is taxed “with managing wildfires through a combination of wildfire prevention, mitigation and suppression strategies” and there efforts are focused on Crown and private lands outside of organised areas such as municipalities or regional districts and gives “high priority to fuel management and wildfire suppression in interface areas where communities and forests come together.”

In this episode, Donna Macpherson shares strategies that communities can use to make themselves safer from wildfires and to help fight wildfires if they start. Fuel management is an essential aspect of helping prevent wildfires and one form of this is prescribed fire. In order for a community to consider prescribed fire they need an actual “prescription” that looks at the health of the forest, the specific areas of unhealthiness, and what kind of practical strategies could be safely administered to get there: this can include prescribed burns as well as manual clearing, removing underbrush, selective cutting, and other strategies.

In particular, Donna emphasizes the importance of Fire Smart strategies for communities and households. She says that lest individuals worry that there is nothing they can do to protect their homes and properties, they should know that she has first hand experience with seeing how a wildfire can devastate a community but leave homes that have been Fire Smarted nearly untouched. She points to a recent video on their facebook page for inspiration: https://www.facebook.com/firesmartbc/videos/336823184225352/UzpfSTE0MjE4ODAxMDY3MjoxMDE1ODQ1NjgwMTA3NTY3Mw/ or see other videos, photos, and information on BC Wildfire at  https://www.facebook.com/BCForestFireInfo To learn more about Fire Smart visit https://firesmartbc.ca/

Examining the health of a forest and coming up with a prescription are processes done in partnership with BC Wildfire and scientists and experts such as those at BA Blackwell & Associates. Debrah Zemanek is Forest Technician with BA  Blackwell & Associates who does the science to create plans or prescriptions for communities who want to Firesmart their forests. BA Blackwell was part of creating the 2011 Wildfire Community Protection Plan. They are now working as part of the team that also includes the Klahoose and Community Forest’s Cortes Island Forestry General Partnership (CFGP).  Debrah sent a statement on the show about the partnership work being done now to update this plan for today. Mark Lombard, as part of the Community Forest, has been part of that team and joined the show to discuss how the Community Forest management team has begun to learn more about how to manage the risk of wildfire in these public land. The partnership is also looking at funding from a new program called Wildfire Risk Reduction which has funding available to communities on the Sunshine Coast for wildfire risk mitigation. Later on the program Shaun Koopman announced brand new funding for 2020-2021 that could help communities such as Cortes create a prescription for the health of their forest lands. 

Mark Lombard says the CFGP has just begun to learn more about how to manage the risk of wildfire in these lands and the consultation with Blackwell is part of the process. The partnership is also looking at funding from a new program called Wildfire Risk Reduction which is providing funding to help with this on the Sunshine Coast. Later on the program Shaun Koopman announces brand new funding for 2020-2021 that will be available to the partnership to help the Partnership create a prescription for the health of our forest lands. Cortes already has begun the process Shaun emphasizes by created the Wildfire Community Protection Plan which is why we are now available for funding to help with the prescription stage. 

Shaun Koopman is proud of Cortes Island and the close knit and neighbourliness of our island community which he says is the most important thing in recovering from a hazard disaster. For instance, he says we have one of the best trained and managed volunteer fire fighting teams he has ever seen. He also emphasizes that he works for us and that if people don’t reach out with questions or concerns about widlfire, evacuations, or other hazards, he won’t know these issues exist. In this regard, he’s been leading a survey to better understand the needs and the resources available in an evacuation emergency. If you haven’t done your survey yet, make sure you do that at https://srd.ca/projects/cortes-evacuation-survey/

Firefighting by Cameron Strandberg via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)

In order to be warned and prepared in a wildfire, earthquake, or other major hazard situation, people on Cortes can tune into CKTZ 89.5 FM or they can get notices on their smart or home phones by signing up for Connect Rocker at  https://strathconard.connectrocket.com/ .

This is very important in a place where it’s unlikely that volunteers will be able to get to your door in a timely way if wildfire or tsunamis are an issues. To reach out to Shaun about any Hazard-related questions, resources, thoughts, or needs (Cortes and Quadra islanders) are encouraged to do so at skoopman@srd.ca or 250-830-6701. 

There are many ways that islanders can play a positive role in hazard planning and many ways that we already do. 

Top photo credit: Wildfire by Cameron Strandberg via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)

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