Wildfire crews work to extinguish hot spots on the large and destructive Silver Creek fire of 1998. (Salmon Arm Museum Archives)

20 years later, destructive ‘98 B.C. wildfire a reminder that fire fuels need to be cut

Counsellor and fire chief look forward to new provincial program to reduce fire fuel.

As this week marks the 20-year anniversary of the destructive 1998 Silver Creek wildfire, fuel reduction continues to be an issue.

And one local resident is willing to put his money where his mouth is when it comes to wildfire protection.

Dave Martinuk believes the City of Salmon Arm could be doing more to mitigate wildfire risk by removing forest fuels and says he’d be willing to accept a small increase in taxes to help pay for it.

He says he made a presentation to council last year and couldn’t believe there was no protection plan in place for the city. As well, he notes, many communities much smaller than Salmon Arm have raided their own coffers to partner with the province to become Fire Smart communities and complete fuel-reduction projects.

“In my opinion, the problem continues due to the direction of our fire department’s philosophy (i.e.) mobile structural units are the most effective method to contain wildfire,” he writes in a July 19 email to the Observer. “Also, the continued cycle of the city waiting for provincial funds and the province waiting for federal implementation funds. I wonder why we have a city budget for snow removal and ignore the wildfire issue?”

Related: Funding to mitigate wilfire risk

Related: Photos capture terrifying images of advancing wildfire

Fire Chief Brad Shirley says neither he nor council are ignoring the issue.

“It’s not necessarily the best method, but it’s one of the tools in the tool box,” he says of the structural protection units. “And CSRD and the city share the philosophy that at least this way we can determine, in a lot of cases, where it’s (fire) heading and place the structural protection units in the line of fire.”

Excited about the prospect of a new provincial Strategic Wildfire Protection Initiative, Shirley points out the old plan was restricted to Crown land, with no funding forthcoming for municipal properties.

“Obviously we’re concerned about any type of fire in our community and the city has always shared the concern,” he says. “We weren’t keen on past programs and I know we’re not the only ones who shared that concern, so I think that is partially a reason why the province is coming out with a new program.”

Coun. Tim Lavery agrees the city needs to do more to address the “huge problem” of forest fuels both surrounding and within the municipality, but points out the city is more than 150 square kilometres in size and available solutions are less than perfect.

“I think, and I believe council has moved that way, that we need to proceed with Fire Smart, but not at the cost of the structural protection units, and we need to be really cognizant it’s not a full solution,” he says. “In fact, it’s a very partial solution based on the fact it’s a large municipality, hugely surrounded by Crown land, and it’s incredibly, astronomically expensive.”

Like Shirley, he defends the city’s response to criticism about smaller communities forking out funds to join the Fire Smart program but says despite the challenges, communities need to protect themselves the best they can.

Related: Column: Reduce your fire risks

He notes that Logan Lake is a Fire Smart community that has completed some 21 fuel management programs over the past decade.

“I’m guessing they’ve cleared about 400 hectares and that’s a drop in the bucket,” he says, reiterating the fire chief’s concern about the lack of funding for municipalities in the previous plan. “I am not saying we shouldn’t apply, I’m saying let’s do it with eyes wide open.”

Lavery says he is attempting to be a hub of information in the context of discussion at council and in the community.

In an effort to be as well-prepared as possible when details of the new provincial initiative are announced, council has approved a co-application with the Neskonlith Indian Band, which is working with Silvatech.

“I would argue we need to accurately define the problem, the extent of it and the cost of mitigation,” he says. “At this stage, we can only wait for an announcement and criteria.”

Lavery and Shirley agree homeowners have a responsibility to mitigate fuels on their own properties. Free Fire Smart manuals containing details on how to do this are available at the downtown firehall, city hall and the Columbia Shuswap Regional District office on Harbourfront Drive.

The province has not indicated when the announcement will be made but as the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) will administer the program, there is an expectation details will be made public at the annual conference in the fall.


@SalmonArm
barbbrouwer@saobserver.net

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James Murray snapped this award-winning shot of the 1998 fire in Salmon Arm. (Salmon Arm Museum Archives)

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