It doesnt take a three month study to determine that Valemount and Tete Jaune are high risk communities when it comes to wildfires. Both communities are literally surrounded by and even contain mature or over-mature forests. Add to this high winds, drought-like conditions and a mountain pine beetle epidemic, and you have two communities that are very good candidates for a devastating wildfire.
Consultant Rick Publicover has been working to put fuel types, slope and other factors onto a map so that residents and planners can have some sense of the overall wildfire situation.
Publicover presented the Fire Hazard Risk Assessment and Wildfire Protection Plan to the village council last Tuesday. While Tete Jaune and Valemount are at risk during extreme summer conditions (like the two years previous), there is much that private property owners, Crown, village and the regional district can do to reduce the threat. Publicover developed 110 recommendations on how to prepare for wildfires.
The report is based on detailed data from the Ministry of Forests, and while the data isnt completely up to date, Publicover said that the overall picture is helpful. Measurable fire indicators within 25 km of Valemount, including Tete Jaune have been placed on the map giving a new perspective on the wildfire situation. The data itself isnt new, but for the first time forest type, slope, fire probability (based on historical lightning strikes and potential for human caused fires), critical surface fire intensity, spotting distances, head fire intensity classes have been laid out over a map of the valley.
Perhaps one of the most harrowing revelations can be found on the map showing spotting distances. Many forest stands, some very close to the village, show that they can throw burning embers up to 2 km under extreme conditions. Virtually all private land between Valemount and Tete Jaune is at risk.
Publicover said that the lesson is that even though your property could be far away from the front of the raging fire, embers thrown by a fire storm could ignite fuels in your back yard.
This is where FireSmart comes in, said Publicover. By removing refuse from your yard, by cutting back trees and ladder fuels, by moving your wood pile away from your house and by screening your eaves, your house could well survive the embers of a nearby class 6 firestorm.
Publicover said that if a property isnt FireSmart it may well present too much of a hazard for firefighters to try to save in the event of a wildfire.
Now residents, rural and otherwise can find their properties on the maps and determine what the threats are. Publicover hopes that understanding the threat will get landowners to reduce ladder fuels and underbrush in their forests and remove mountain pine beetle killed trees on their property.
Robson Valley Fire Zone protection officer Bob Gray is supportive of the work. He said that the data presented in the report contains fresh reflections on the lessons learned during Kelownas Fire Storm. Its amazing that you can protect yourself. People can see what they can do, he said. He hopes that residents begin seriously considering what would happen if a nearby forest fire dropped embers into their yard. Gray hopes that they realize that although it can be difficult to get started, removing a few trees, dry grasses and other fuel can make the difference between a home saved and a home incinerated.