CORD gets proactive on reducing fire hazards

Randy Burgess of the Wildfire Management Branch explains how the fire hazard fuel modification project in Rose Valley Regional Park was funded. - Doug Farrow/Contributor
Randy Burgess of the Wildfire Management Branch explains how the fire hazard fuel modification project in Rose Valley Regional Park was funded.
— image credit: Doug Farrow/Contributor

The Central Okanagan Regional District has commissioned work on a large fire hazard fuel modification project in Rose Valley Regional Park.

Bruce Smith, communications coordinator for CORD, said the project is "money well spent."

"This is a priority area and it's important that it be done. It's a good example of money being well spent to protect the citizens of the Central Okanagan.”

The work includes the removal of dead hazard trees, brushing and ground fuels from approximately 50 hectares of the Crown land tenure between the Rose Valley Properties subdivision, Westlake Road, Rose Valley Elementary School, West Kelowna Road and McPhail Court.

Steve Giesbrecht, a project specialist with Landmark Forest Management Limited, said that crews have already begun the fuel reduction work.

"We're taking out trees, starting at the lower levels. We're going to reduce those to 100 or 200 stumps per hectare. Then we're using a spider hoe and hand piling to create little piles," said Giesbrecht.

"When we get the proper burning indexes, we'll light all the piles and have hand crews tend to them while they're burning. That will effectively reduce the fuel hazard in this area."

Giesbrecht said that all of the trees that the crews retain will be pruned to reduce all branches up to four metres.

"That will eliminate any ladder fuels," said Giesbrecht.

Giesbrecht said that crews will only take out mature trees that have become infested with pine beetles or that are considered hazard trees.

"We'll be retaining 90 per cent of the mature trees. About 75 to 80 per cent of the (poles and saplings) will be taken out."

This process, according to Giesbrecht, keeps the fire on the ground so it is easier to fight.

According to Smith, there are 29 regional parks in the Central Okanagan. In the past 15 years, approximately 15 of those parks have been the focus of fuel modification projects.

"Every (tree) that you can get cleaned up is one more that you don't have to worry about and it reduces the fire hazard and potential spread of fire," said Smith.

According to Randy Burgess of the Wildfire Management Branch, the funding comes from the Wildfire Management Branch and is funneled through the UBCM to local governments. The local governments then come up with a Community Wildfire Protection Plan, which prioritizes the areas within their municipality that need to be treated.

The Rose Valley Regional Park was deemed a priority due to its close proximity to Rose Valley Elementary School and a number of homes.

Burgess said that they're doing the best they can with the funds that they have; however, it would cost “hundreds of millions” to do similar work in every community throughout the province.

Darren Lee of West Kelowna Fire Rescue said that he is happy to see a project like this taking place.

"This project, from a firefighter's point of view, is a great one," said Lee.

"It's a great opportunity having it on the roadside so people can have a look how the pruning works. Especially for people who use the park.

"I love this project because it's right up against subdivisions. It's in an area that has given us challenges in the past and still could in the future."

Lee said that he hopes people see this project as an example and do their own spring cleanups: Getting the pine needles off of rooftops, out of gutters and pruning bushes away from houses, to prevent the risk of spreading a fire.

Smith said that these types of projects have made the Central Okanagan more prepared for the next time a fire strikes.

“We're more prepared in our parks and I know that the citizens of the Central Okanagan are definitely more prepared than they were 10 years ago," said Smith.

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