Wildfire safety starts with healthy forests and smart communities
Guy Exley sees forests differently than most who venture out into North Vancouver’s natural areas.
On this fall day, Exley, a long-time community forester with the District, is walking through Braemar Park, a sprawling wooded area bordered by residential homes.
As he passes through a grove of tall trees — hemlock, Douglas fir and Western red cedar — his eyes remain fixated on the forest floor.
Exley explains that wildfire prevention in areas like this, where the forest and our community meet, is a priority for the District and includes managing forest vegetation that fuels wildfires — which is where he comes in.
He and his crews reduce the number of small trees and brush that can help a fire spread from the ground to the tree canopy, known as “ladder fuels.” Other materials that can easily catch or fuel a fire, such as excessive accumulations of dried branches, twigs, and other organic materials, are also removed.
“This area, known as the wildland urban interface, is critical. If we get a house fire, it could ignite the forest, and if we get a forest fire, it could ignite the community,” Exley says.
“In 2019, we treated this whole park to reduce the potential for a wildfire to spread.”
In November 2022, crews will be working at McCartney Creek Park and Cliffwood Loop as part of the District’s ongoing wildfire fuel reduction program.
Keeping the forest safe and healthy
Exley helped complete the latest Community Wildfire Protection Plan update in 2020, which features recommendations on assisting the District to prepare for, respond to and recover from wildfires.
The current wildfire protection plan identifies 160 hectares of strategically identified high-risk, forested areas where potential fuels should be removed, in addition to the 70 hectares already completed. This work to create a connected, shaded fuel break to protect the community and critical infrastructure is supported and jointly funded between the District and Union of British Columbia Municipalities Community Resilience Investment through the FireSmart Community Funding & Supports program.
Materials that aren’t as much of a fire risk are generally retained as they benefit forest health and biodiversity.
Along with creating a buffer between the forest and community, fuel treatment benefits the forest floor as it creates space and adds more light for low-flammable greenery to grow or be planted.
Making our community “FireSmart”
In the community, the District is reducing the potential impacts of forest fires by offering residents a home hazard assessment with tips on keeping homes wildfire safe.
“The most efficient work we can do is mitigating the risk, rather than dealing with it after a fire starts and responding to it,” says Conrad Breakey, Captain of Community Risk Reduction and Pre-Incident Fire Planning at DNV Fire and Rescue Services (DNVFRS).
The free wildfire home assessment uses principles from FireSmart BC, a recent partner of the DNVFRS, and offers various resources dedicated to wildfire prevention and preparedness. Assessments are available to homeowners, neighbourhoods and strata complexes in the Wildfire Hazard Development Permit Area (DPA), including just over 7,000 homes in the District’s forests, parks and wildland urban interface.
After residents book an appointment on the FireSmart website, a wildfire mitigation specialist visits the property and, together with the homeowner, will walk around the outside of the home or outdoor communal area and go through a detailed FireSmart checklist. They will identify any wildfire hazards on the property and recommend how to address them. There are no tickets or fines, and the fire department only follows up on recommendations if invited by the property owner.
“The big hazard from forest fires isn’t necessarily the fire itself that’s coming right up to your doorstep,” Captain Breakey says. “Embers can travel on the wind for many kilometres, and if they land in a little pile of dried brush near your home, that’s enough to ignite the house, which could be hundreds of metres, if not kilometres, away from the actual fire.”
If a forest fire happens near our community, DNVFRS has specialized firefighting equipment, including a new fleet of wildfire response pickup trucks, mobile water supply and expert personnel trained to respond to wildland incidents.
A recent grant from the Union of BC Municipalities will help fund further training and public education efforts, in addition to the wildfire home hazard assessment and the round of fuel treatments beginning in the new year.
While the District is prepared to respond to a fire whenever needed, the best way to fight wildfires is before they start. These hazard mitigation initiatives under way in our community help create more FireSmart communities and healthy forests.
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