Community wildfire risk management plans are in jeopardy as the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted a ban on resource open management fires beginning later this week.
Effective at noon on Thursday, April 16, the Ministry of Forests and BC Wildfire Service ban includes all category two, category three and resource open management fires.
“That forced us to get out on the Easter weekend to do some burning,” said Gord Chipman of Alkali Resource Management (ARM). “We’ve got a number of projects on the go.”
On Saturday, April 11, smoke could be seen from Highway 20 looking toward Chimney Valley where Chipman said ARM was doing some burning for the Herrick family at Woodlot 1805 near Frost Creek.
Chipman said last year the Cariboo Woodlot Association received funding from the Forest Enhancement Society of B.C. through the community wildfire protection plan which identified some hot spots around the Williams Lake area where fuel treatment needs to happen.
“We are applying it to woodlots that need work, doing logging, then following up with spacing, piling and burning.”
Work got underway in January and a lot of the branches got completely buried under snow.
“There are a lot of piles that we cannot burn until the snow is gone and then we will probably be doing some burning in the fall.”
Small piles are burned and the bigger piles are going through a grinder for sale to either Pinnacle Renewable Energy or Atlantic Power Corp. as biomass fuel.
“We have a contractor that has a grinder,” he added. “They ground about 10,000 tons for us already this winter. We got into that business in a big way this past year.”
Wildfire risk management work is also being done along Enterprise Road and Chimney Lake Road that ARM initiated itself, to help create an egress route if the area is evacuated due to wildfires again.
“We will then have roads that are not threatened by fire. We are thinning, piling, to reduce the amount of biomass that’s growing there so you won’t get as much fire intensity.”
There is still more work to be done along Dog Creek Road, and many projects are planned around Esket where crews have been reducing fire hazard around the main IR1 community.
Everything they are burning now has to be completely out by Thursday, April 16 at noon.
“Because of COVID-19 we had our community shut down and were not able to go out and burn anything for the last month.”
The ban will also put spring burn plans on the back burner that had already been approved.
“We could not do a lot of burning last fall because it was so wet so our plan was to do a bunch this spring — mainly grassland burning and now with the burning ban our whole plan is out the window,” Chipman said.
Addressing fire hazards around Williams Lake are important, he added, noting both Williams Lake and Esket have developed community wildfire protection plans.
“Ours at Esket is a wildfire risk management plan and we are trying to address all these areas that were identified as high-risk areas and there are only certain times of the year that you can do it. Unfortunately with COVID-19 and the lockdown of the province, it delays being able to treat some of these fire hazard areas.”