Province allocates millions to enhance wildfire protection

Speaking in an area that was evacuated when the Mount Boucherie wildfire threatened to destroy Lakeview Heights, B.C. Forest Minister Steve Thomson announced Thursday that $25 million will be spent in the next two years on protection from wildfire for communities in wildland interface areas.

With a beetle-killed pine tree towering above his head, Thomson said the Strategic Wildfire Prevention Initiative, which is focussed on reducing the risk of interface wildfires, will be administered by the Union of B.C. Municipalities, with funding to local governments doled out on a cost-sharing formula.

This follows on $37 million provided by the federal and provincial governments for similar protection work, which was also administered by the UBCM.

Forest protection officer Jim Mottishaw demonstrated the work that has already been done in regional parkland off Trevor Drive in Lakeview Heights to help protect adjacent private property, and demonstrated how little smoke is produced when the work is done over two years, permitting the cut limbs to cure and dry before they’re burned.

He lit a small pile of the dead branches and ground fuels in forest which had been thinned and where trees had already been spaced out, to demonstrate the clean burning, quick disposal of those dry needles and wood.

“The threat of wildfire is close to all of us here,” said Thomson in making the announcement, surrounded by red-shirted forest ministry firefighters and government officials.

Thomson, the MLA for Kelowna-Mission,  said neighbours he talked to prior to the announcement are positive about the work being done to reduce the risk from wildfire in their neighbourhood and they’re proactive about taking steps themselves to mitigate the possibility of wildfire.

The $25 million program will be available over two years and involve all local governments and First Nations in the province, where more than 230 community wildfire protection plans have been completed since the Gary Filmon Report followed the Okanagan Mountain Park Wildfire in 2003.

That was one of his recommendations, that interface forest fuels by reduced by government, to help protect communities.

Mottishaw said fire crews from his ministry will continue to do spacing and fuel reduction and will also conduct low intensity burns in forested areas near human communities.

“People are more understanding of the need to manage the forest. Burning is one of the tools,” he commented.

While chipping and removal of dead material is done whenever possible, he said that’s not always an option.

For instance, 550 trees were removed from 16 hectares of forestland on the north side of Mount Boucherie over the past couple of years and small piles of dry wood were burned with little smoke.

There is another 16 hectares on the site that still need to be spaced and pruned and the debris burned.

Where the funds will be allocated has yet to be decided.



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