Twenty years ago, Bill Friedel was embroiled in a night-long-battle to save a neighbouring Cortes Island property from fire. As they were in Tiber Bay, outside the protected area, the Cortes Island Fire Department did not intervene. One night last Spring, a downed power line “remained live for over 20 minutes and started several intense, small fires …” Luckily, these blazes were spotted before they spread. Tiber Bay is still outside the protected zone today and many residents are asking to be included in the Fire District.
Tiber Bay’s Current Status
“The request was originally brought to the Strathcona Regional District (SRD) around 2014-15 and, due to staff turnover and the proposed implementation of Cortes Island’s First Responder service, was put on the back burner. Now we are on the point of reinvestigating it. The residents of that area still have some water and access/egress that they need to work on to get the fire department’s approval. When the fire department is willing to provide a letter stating that the residents have taken care of those issues and they feel confident providing the service to Tiber Bay, then we can bring that forward to the Strathcona Regional District Board” said Shaun Koopman, the SRD’s Protective Services Coordinator.
The SRD’s Electoral Areas Services Committee received an update on this issue at their January 15, 2020, meeting.
Original Request To Be Included
In response to requests from Tiber Bay residents, in the Spring of 2014 the Cortes Island Fire Fighting Association informed the SRD, “We feel that we will be able to provide fire suppression services to the Tiber Bay area.“ SRD staff subsequently met with local residents. Their resulting report states:
“If the Board determines that evaluation by the Regional District is appropriate, the following questions are proposed to be addressed during the evaluation:
- will there be additional costs to the fire protection service in extending the service boundaries?
- if so, how will these costs be recovered?
- is access by fire trucks adequate, and are there other potential service challenges associated with the proposed extension area?
- can the evaluation area be serviced without degrading or jeopardizing the insurance rates for the existing fire protection area?
- to what degree do residents and property owners of the evaluation area support this initiative?
Their report states Tiber Bay’s roads need to be widened, to give the Fire Department access, but also listed a number of assets. Three Tiber Bay residents were “certified fire fighters.” The community has “several water cisterns that range in size from 1,000 to 5,000 gallons.” SRD staff raised the idea of a community built fire hall in Tiber Bay.
On June 14, 2019, the 13 households of Tiber Bay petitioned Koopman:
“ … We feel it is important to be part of the Fire District, and our community members understand and accept that this may result in increased property taxes as we take on our share of supporting the expanded Fire District area.”
“Since our first communication on this issue in 2016, we have been working with Cortes Island Fire Chief, Mac Diver. Chief Diver visited our property and homes in August 2018 and provided a list of recommendations to support our inclusion in the Fire District. For Tiber Bay specifically, these included widening the upper parking area to create a large enough area for the deployment and turnaround for large fire trucks and support equipment; improving directional signage along our road and at our houses, and maintaining 500 gallons of water in reserve on one of our upper house sites. Our community unanimously resolved to move forward on these actions at our recent Annual General Meeting. We expect these tasks to be completed or substantially underway by the end of June. Hopefully our commitment to completing these requirements is matched by the interest of the Regional District in finalizing our inclusion into the Cortes Island Fire District.”
“As another dry fire season is already upon us, we would welcome any advice around expediting the inclusion of Tiber Bay and our neighbouring communities into the Cortes Island Fire District …”
Fire Protection on Cortes Island
“The Strathcona Regional District does not have an open burning Bylaw regulation for Cortes Island. We contract the Cortes Island Fire Department to provide fire suppression for their area but, in terms of regulation, all of Cortes is still under the BC Wildfires Act,” says Koopman.
As you can see in the map above: Marina Island, Tiber Bay and northern Cortes Island are all outside of the protected zone. Fire suppression in these areas is left to BC Wildfires, whose mandate does not include buildings.
The Historic Record
Could an out of control campfire cause all of Cortes Island to burn down?
“Look at the science on that. How many times in the fire history has a wildfire swept through all of Cortes Island? It doesn’t happen, not in terms of the whole island. There are definitely pockets that can burn and definitely better pockets that can burn. We have modern fire suppression at our disposal now. We have BC Wildfires that can come with air bombers. I’m not saying never, but a full scale evacuation of Cortes Island because of a wildfire – is not a realistic probability … ,” says Koopman.
According to the Cortes Island Wildfire Protection Plan:
“The largest fire in recorded history on Cortes was in 1924 and burned 103 ha. In comparison, Quadra Island has experienced much more fire activity than Cortes. In 1925, a fire consumed over 15,908 ha of forest on Quadra; approximately 58% of the Island.”
There have not been any fires larger than 10 hectares in extent since more detailed records were started in 1950. Most of the fires in our area have been human caused.