A FireSmart pilot project is being planned for Canim Lake South in an effort to keep residents safe ahead of the upcoming wildfire seasons.
Community members last month formed a FireSmart committee, which aims to develop an action plan in the face of future wildfires and become accredited with the FireSmart Canada Neighbourhood Recognition Program. The move follows last year’s prolonged wildfires, which kept the Canim Lake South community under evacuation order for most of the summer.
This would be the first FireSmart project in the Cariboo Regional District, according to local FireSmart representative Bob Swart, who outlined the program to residents during a meeting last month at South Point Resort.
“Citizen involvement is the cornerstone of the FireSmart Canada Neighbourhood Recognition Program,” Swart told the Free Press. “If you live in a region susceptible to wildfires, you and your neighbours will learn how to decrease the risk of losing your homes and how best to protect yourselves in the event of a wildfire.”
FireSmart – built on partnerships between government, industry and homeowners – is a planning tool designed to reduce the likelihood of large, uncontrollable wildfires in forests near communities and infrastructure, Swart said. He added neighbourhoods that have been FireSmarted provide a greater chance of surviving a wildfire without intervention from the fire department.
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The Canim Lake South project is expected to get underway this summer by outlining the various goals and objectives and conducting “homeowner hazard assessments” this fall to determine what needs to be done to FireSmart their properties, such as fuel management projects, Swart said. He expects they will have their “ducks in a row” by next spring.
He noted while wildfires are an integral part of ecosystems, human activities and climate change disturb ecosystems and can change fire characteristics and their impacts. A large fire scar remains above the Canim Lake community from 2017 last summer, he said, while last year’s wildfires “burned around and onto the edge of the community.
“Three of the worst fire seasons on record have all transpired within the past five years in B.C.,” Swart said, adding he expects future summers to display an increase in wildfire frequency with larger-scale fires, more smoke and longer seasons.
“We need to continue to adapt, learn and co-exist in the wildland-urban environment that many of our communities occur within.”
Leanne Sallenback, of South Point Resort, said the wildfires last summer were “pretty devastating for local businesses.”
She said they had no business for about a month last summer, while that number was down to about 50 percent of their usual bookings for the rest of the season.
The Canim Lake South FireSmart Neighbourhood Recognition Program will help people be more self-reliant if no government assistance is available, Sallenback said. She added she is hoping they don’t have another wildfire season but “you never know.”
Although the pilot project is earmarked for Canim Lake South, Swart noted they have already been approached by residents on the other side of the lake and plan to mentor them going forward. They have also been networking with the Canim Lake Band, which will be doing its own FireSmart projects.