Though the wheels of government can occasionally turn slowly, in the case of fire prevention work, there is a lot going on behind the scenes.
Since the last fire season, where Kimberley was particularly impacted by being on evacuation alert, city officials and Columbia River Revelstoke MLA Doug Clovechok have been working with the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD) on making the community safer.
A recent meeting with local FLNRORD personnel, which Kimberley mayor Don McCormick, Fire Chief Rick Prasad and Clovechok say was very positive, discussed many different actions that could be taken.
“Kimberley is seen as standing in better shape than many communities in terms of the interface work they have already done and work they continue to do,” Clovechok said.
McCormick says there are two pieces to protecting Kimberley further from forest fires.
“One piece is what we can control within Kimberley in terms of fuel treatments within our boundaries,” he said.
“We’ve done a lot of work and have a better chance than we did ten years ago, but there is much more work required,” said Prasad.
To that end the city is in the process of applying for $1.8 million over three years for more interface work.
Prasad says that the work that will involve treating 335 hectares of land, some of it re-treatment of what was done in the past, and creating larger fire breaks. A lot of that work will be in the Nature Park area, west of Trickle Creek and north of Forest Crowne.
The other piece will require more collaboration with outside agencies, including CanFor, the Regional District of East Kootenay and the Ktunaxa among others.
“We need a fire guard of some kind in the St. Mary Valley,” McCormick said. “if you fly over the valley, it is contiguous forest, one continuous crown. That is the worst thing for a wind-fed fire. We will be in better shape with work in the city but we need a guard in the valley.”
Prasad says that while a guard wouldn’t be a guarantee of safety, at least it would give Kimberley a fighting chance should a fire come straight up the valley towards the city.
Clovechok says that local FLNRORD staff have been working hard since this past fire season.
“They appreciate that Kimberley has been proactive. We all have to work on this together and kudos to FLNRORD for making it happen.”
A lot of collaboration and planning would have to take place for a fire guard in the St. Mary Valley to happen, but if the city should get this grant, a lot can be done within the city immediately.
The funding formula for fire smart work has been changed, and a cap of $100,000 per year for interface work instead of the previous $400,000 put in place.
Clovechok says that is a downfall of the new program.
Kimberley has been maxing out that $400,000 for the past two years and spending a good portion of it in the years prior. A lot of that funding will now focus on Fire Smart work.
However, there are other funds available for aggressive fuel treatments through a Community Resilience Investment Program, and Prasad has submitted the $1.8 million grant application through that program.
“There is a section that will allow us to apply for more funds if the work is on Crown land within municipal boundaries.”
That of course, would be much of the Nature Park lands.
Meanwhile, a committee has been put together with regional stakeholders that will explore work that could be done outside of city limits.
Prasad says he is thankful that Clovechok has been able to assist in getting everyone to the table.
In the meantime, thinking fire smart is important for everyone, Clovechok says.
“Education is important from a community perspective,” he said. “For example, trees close to your house. I am clearing junipers from around my house. You can help to save your own property.”
“People need to remember the feelings they had when we were on alert, and you had to pack the most important parts of your life and be ready to leave,” McCormick said.
“And share those feelings with part time residents,” Clovechok said.