Inferno awaits Urban areas near regional parks at risk for interface fires

Inferno awaits Urban areas near regionalparks at risk for interface fires

 17 October 2007

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Canada — Lush green-space surrounding View Royal has put the community inthe line of fire.

And while the town has never had an interface fire, residents have been lucky,said Fire Chief Paul Hurst.

An interface fire is a blaze between developed and forested areas. Afteranalyzing development in View Royal and its proximity to wooded areas, there issignificant risk of such a fire, said Bruce Blackwell of B.A. Blackwell &Associates.

The Vancouver company assesses a community’s risk of fire, potentialdamages and ways to control those factors. Paid for by a $15,000 grant from theUnion of British Columbia Municipalities, the study has identified risk factorsand will make recommendations to minimize ignitions and fire damage. What effecta fire could have on air and water quality was also factored in.

The assessment includes View Royal and three Capital Regional District parks:Mill Hill, Thetis Lake and Francis King regional parks.

“I was a little surprised at how high the risk is in areas surrounding theparks. But of course that’s to be expected when you start building homes thatclose to the forest,” Hurst said.

Fires don’t spontaneously combust, so identifying risk areas is key, hesaid. Aggressive firefighting in populated areas means the natural fuel load —flammable material on the forest floor — has built up, Hurst said, notingthere hasn’t been a sizable fire in Thetis Lake Regional Park since the 1960s.Removing all the fuel load in View Royal is a “monumental” and “nearimpossible” task, he added.

View Royal banned outdoor burning, so removing the debris through controlledburning isn’t an option. The debris can be trucked out of the area and thereare UBCM grants available for that work, Hurst said. The study will help guideView Royal Fire Rescue on clearing forest debris near high-traffic areas.

South Vancouver Island has more in common with the Interior than people mightthink, Blackwell said. Under the right conditions, he said a blaze similar tothe 2003 Kelowna fires could happen here. Humans are the largest contributingfactor in urban areas.

Many of View Royal’s homes butt up against forest leaving an insufficientbarrier between the two areas, Blackwell said. Without proper space, flames froma house fire can jump into the woods or vice versa. Intense heat can ignitehomes next door, quickly allowing the fire to spread, he said.

People don’t need to live in the woods to be in danger from a forest fire,Blackwell said. During the Kelowna fire, embers traveled up to nine kilometresbefore igniting roof tops.

Road access is another major concern because without it people can’t getout and equipment can’t get in, Blackwell said.

“Sooner or later we are going to get a community that is trapped behindthat fire line,” he added.

Residential areas north of Thetis Lake Regional Park were mentioned as beingat a higher risk.

With heavy recreational use and an abundance of flammable material, the parkcould host a serious fire.

If that happened, the people who live beyond it could be in trouble, Hurstsaid.

“There is only one way in and one way out,” he said referring to HighlandRoad.

The information isn’t meant to incite fear in people, Hurst said, butrather help them prepare. He hopes the recommendations will also help preparefor a fire moving into View Royal from another district.

While the plan will help firefighters and residents in the event of a fire,with a disaster there is no way to rule out every scenario, Hurst said.

“You can prepare all you want but you can get an extraordinary event thatoverwhelms and taps your resources instantly,” he said.

The View Royal fire department has 36 firefighters, 32 of which are volunteer.

Council noted interest in the recommendations to come. Determining how tobalance safety with the community’s natural landscape will be a challenge,said Mayor Graham Hill.

“Getting the right balance is going to be a very hard set of choices,” hesaid.

The Town’s transportation master plan is slated for review, and suggestionsfrom the fire department on how to improve road access would be helpful, addedCoun. Andrew Britton.

The final report is expected next month, outlining potential ways to reducefires and lessen damage.

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