Saturday, August 13, 2016

August 13, 2015 - Rock Creek - Westbridge

On this date last summer, a fire was ignited near Rock Creek, creating a firestorm that cut a swath through the valley to Westbridge taking 30 homes, livestock and countless outbuildings. So many families were affected. I've watched over the past year as agricultural fencing has been repaired, properties have been cleaned up, and new homes started.

The effects of that fire are long from over for the people of those communities. Some were not insured, some are still dealing with their insurance companies , irreplaceable items were lost, and images were seared in the minds of those who saw it.

The strength of community in the Boundary Country always has been remarkable. In this disaster - everyone took action whether it was fighting fire, evacuating campers across the river into pick up trucks, the evacuation centre, food and supplies in Midway, and the people of Midway who took evacuees into their homes.

In the following days there were individual and corporate donations of all kinds including a shipment of pet food!

Members of the Baldy Family who live there were defending their homes and their neighbours homes. I didn't go near the area until one month after the fire. I put my DSLR on the dash, and drove through the devastated areas. I was profoundly affected by what I saw, and I never watched or did anything with the video I took.

At Baldy, we lost power and phone, and dealt with considerable smoke for some time - but nothing as intense as the choking smoke in the Kettle Valley. Within a short period of time there was a fire south of the border creeping toward Sidley, then the night that fire came down to the edge of Oliver, travelled south on the hillside, and burned for a long time, taking some homes.

My travel trailer stayed parked for 2 months. With fire and road closures all around us, the Baldy residents were staying home - in a very dry environment , knowing that a fire could start almost anywhere, anytime.

Thankfully temperatures and moisture have given us a safer summer this year. In fact last week felt more like fall up here.

A few years ago, the Strata voted down spending money on forest fuel reduction outside of our perimeter. I have sent countless links to the Strata Council since that time as each grant program is announced. The Province continues to encourage removal of fuels in interface areas. It is a lot cheaper to reduce the risk of fire, than to deal with fire.

I rant about this often. Having taken the S100 Wildland Fire Fighting course from a forester, and from an interface firefighter, it frustrates me immensely to see the number of properties within the village that have not been cleaned up, and that no effort has been made on the fuels down the road.

The last fire was more than 80 years ago and came up from the Canyon Bridge. It makes total sense to apply for and work with Strata and the new owners to get some education program grants and fuel reduction grants for the benefit of us all.

The master plan had a perimeter trail around the base of the mountain. Perhaps that could be a starting point - logging a recreational trail, then reducing the fuel from that fire break to the ski hill.

The most unpredictable fire behaviour comes at the 30 30 cross over. Above 30C, and below 30% relative humidity. We rarely get those conditions at the mountain, but an extreme fire starting below us makes us sitting ducks with sparks 2 km ahead of a fire if we are not prepared to deal with it. If you have years worth of pine needles on your property, a flying ember will ignite them.

If everyone in the village followed the Firesmart recommendations to the letter, there  wouldn't be many trees left in the village. That said, there is so much we can do to improve the village safety. The inaction of too many in the village puts all of our places at risk.

A lesson from the interface firefighter - if a crew comes in to protect a subdivision, if they see that you have made an effort and it won't take them long to protect your place, they will. If no effort has been made on your property, and it will take them too long to protect it, they will pass by and save several other homes.

For the last several years, we have had a community burn pile on property intended for the eventual sewage ponds when development moves toward the current ones. Strata has time to discuss this with the new ownership over the winter, but in the meantime, clean up your property - the burn pile is still there.

It has been a few years since we had an S100 course at Baldy. The photo I have of the last full community fire hose demonstration has Ian Walsh in a firefighter coat - looking about 7 years old. I'm thinking Ian is probably 31 now.

There's my rant for today. Thinking of our Rock Creek and Westbridge friends.

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