Okanagan West rural director calls for intensified wildfire mitigation efforts

Wayne Carson advocates for proactive rather than reactive response to wildfires

The White Rock Lake fire as seen from 50th Parallel Winery in Lake Country at 5 a.m. on Aug. 16. (Jessie Ballard photo)

The need for more intensive forest management practices to prevent the spread of wildfires in B.C. has been raised by the Regional District of Central Okanagan rural area director for Central Okanagan West.

Wayne Carson says the devastating impact left behind by the White Rock Lake wildfire, which has heavily damaged or destroyed 70 homes in the Killiney Beach area, demands a rethink of the current provincial strategy for countering the wildfire threat.

“There is not much we can do about floods, but wildfires are something we can fix and we need to start working on that,” said Carson, who was told last Wednesday his house had survived intact while his neighbour’s house did not.

“We need to do a better job of being proactive rather than reactive.”

Carson cites the report done by former Manitoba premier Gary Filmon in the aftermath of the 2003 Okanagan Mountain Park fire that destroyed or damaged 238 Kelowna homes, which called for among a series of recommendations greater intensive forest management practices to clean up the wildfire groundfloor fuels.

Carson said that message has become overlooked in the years since while the impact of wildfires continues to escalate in land and property damage.

“This is not an NDP or Liberal thing. All governments have been guilty of this. They may budget $60 million to $90 million in the wildfire-fighting budget, but when the cost often comes in rarely less than $500 million,” Carson said.

“This year we lost track of $500 million some time ago and we may yet reach the $1 billion mark. The money is there to spend so we need to start spending on spacing and (ignition) burning to get rid of those fuels that have built up for the last 100 years because we have done such a good job-fighting fires.”

The buildup of forest fire fuels includes mountain beetle-infested timber, tree branches, moss, snags, low vegetation and fallen logs, leaves, grass, limb wood and duff.

He says the public resistance to the smoke caused by burning waste piles of that accumulated material needs to be rethought.

“Nobody wants any smoke. You can’t have a campfire in the City of Kelowna because nobody wants the smoke,” he said.

“But even Mother Nature burns. That’s how Mother Nature gets rid of this stuff…it’s how Indigenous people controlled wildfire fuels…. and we can do the same.”

READ MORE: Westside Road community mourns loss of shop to wildfire

READ MORE: Planned ignition near Falkland helps mitigate wildfire growth

B.C. Wildfires 2021Okanagan