Fire Chief Len MacCharles and his 72-hour evacuation kit that he recommends for all households in Nelson during fire season in case of an evacuation. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

VIDEO: Develop a personal wildfire plan, B.C. fire chief says

72-hour evacuation kit recommended

Len MacCharles wants you to develop a family evacuation plan and put together a 72-hour survival kit. He wants you to do it now.

“A wildfire impacting Nelson: it is not if, it’s when,” Nelson’s fire chief told last week’s Wildfire and Climate Change Conference. “It is highly likely. The impacts to health, property, the environment, people, is going to be pretty serious.”

It’s hard to predict what that fire will look like, he said.

“It would depend on the fire, the conditions, the circumstances, the wind. Was it a fire that started five kilometres from the city and making its way here? Or it is a lightning strike that struck very close?”

MacCharles was hired by city council several years ago partly because of his experience as head of emergency management in Calgary and as the incident commander at the wildfire that destroyed much of Slave Lake, Alberta, in 2013.

MacCharles said a reporter asked him at the time what it would take to put the Slave Lake fire out.

“My answer was, when this fire rolled into Slave Lake, if I had all the resources that I had in Calgary, which was 90 pieces of heavy apparatus and 1,400 fire fighters, if I had had all that in Slave Lake, a fire that was described as like a blow torch, I could not have stopped that fire.

“If a fire wants to come in to your community bad enough, it’s coming.”

The Fort MacMurray fire was not predictable, MacCharles said, because the fire danger rating was not very high at the time. But it was the perfect storm.

“It was the dryness, the wind, all those other circumstances. And the perfect storm is coming more and more often,” he said, referring to earlier conference sessions that had explained how climate change is gradually increasing temperatures and reducing summer precipitation across the Kootenays.

Several years ago, forest fire expert Bruce Blackwell told Nelson city council that Nelson was on his “top ten list of communities in B.C. for the next big fire.”

“That was not just an off-the-cuff remark,” MacCharles said. “He (Blackwell) has actually backed that up with studies and information. It is not just fearmongering.”

How has Nelson responded?

MacCharles said Nelson is developing a wildfire management plan, two main components of which are fuel treatment and the Fire Smart program.

Fuel treatment typically means working by hand, modifying forest vegetation by retaining large dominant trees, thinning and removing small trees, removing deadfall, pruning the lower parts of the retained trees, and burning everything removed.

MacCharles explained that the city and the Regional District of Central Kootenay have been doing fuel treatment work in the city and on crown land outside it, but it is expensive and time consuming and has received “mixed to poor” response and engagement from residents.

He said the FireSmart program, which provides a free professional assessment for property owners in what they could do to reduce fire danger, has had moderate uptake in Nelson and surrounding area but is improving. Owners of forested properties near the city are not compelled to do anything to reduce dangerous fuels, and MacCharles said he is hoping for more provincial government incentives for them.

He said residents become more motivated “when there is smoke on the horizon” but interest tends to drop off otherwise.

MacCharles gave conference participants a thorough list of firefighting challenges in Nelson including a list of critical infrastructure that will need protection, including water supply, hydro, wastewater treatment, communications, hospital, schools and airport. He also talked about evacuation.

“If you say ‘evacuation’ quickly, you can move on and say it’s OK, we got it, it’s all good. But it is a huge nightmare and even with planning and trained people, it is going to be chaotic. Nelson can have up to 20,000 people, (including visitors and rural people working in town) at any given time.

“It is not inconceivable to imagine a wildfire would affect at least one of the three transportation routes out of Nelson. So now you have 20,000 people in an evacuation, trying to get out of town, all on the same road.”

MacCharles also touched on recovery.

“The economics of a wildfire going into a place like Nelson is just off the charts. We are a community of small shops. Most small businesses can go 30 to 60 days without money coming in and going out before they go out of business. You start losing too many businesses, your employment hub drops off, there is a cascading effect. Tourism takes a long time to recover, and the social and mental health impact is huge and it takes years to recover.”

The contents of a 72-hour emergency ‘Grab ‘n’ Go Kit’ can be found on the RDCK website.

Related stories in the Nelson Star:

• Past Kootenay weather extremes will become new normal, scientist says

• FireSmart program an eye-opener for Nelson resident

• CBT funding Nelson $137K for wildfire mitigation

• Wildfire fuel treatment expands in Nelson area

• Action by Nelson area landowners key to wildfire safety, expert says

• Fire experts: Nelson could burn

• RDCK plans wildfire fuel action

• West Arm Park fire prevention plans move forward

• Column: Will West Kootenay forests survive?

• Fighting fire with fire

• More planned forest fires needed: wildfire expert



bill.metcalfe@nelsonstar.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

 

Len MacCharles speaking to the 215-person audience at the recent Wildfire and Climate Change Conference in Nelson. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

Just Posted

Okanagan FC kicks off regular season Saturday night

OKFC starts their inaugural season of the Pacific Coast Soccer League (PCSL) in Penticton

Lake Country joins celebration of local government professionals

The district joined communities across the province by planting a new tree

Kootnekoff: Nervous about random drug testing?

Are you an employer with workers performing safety sensitive activities, but without… Continue reading

Okanagan-Shuswap weather: Severe thunderstorm watch

Environment Canada forecasts thunder, cloud and rain for one more day

PPC leader wants to appeal to voters’ intelligence

Maxine Bernier says his right-wing populist political movement differs from that of U.S. President Donald Trump and other similar European leaders

VIDEO: Protesters in Penticton gather to rally against sleeping-on-sidewalk bylaw

The proposed bylaw would outlaw sitting or lying on the city’s downtown sidewalks

Kamloops girl, 9, recovering from carbon monoxide poisoning now out of ICU

Her mother who was sleeping in the same tent with her did not survive

Highway 1 closed east of Revelstoke

Highway 1 is closed east of Revelstoke near Canyon Hot Springs due… Continue reading

‘I think he’s still alive’: B.C. mom pleads for help finding son last seen a month ago

Family offering $5,000 reward for information leading to the safe return of Tim Delahaye

Okanagan woman celebrates 101 years young on the back of a Harley Davidson

Last Saturday Violet Madeline celebrated 101 years. A member of the Lower… Continue reading

New poll suggests one-third don’t want politicians to wear religious symbols

Local politicians shouldn’t be allowed to wear hijabs, crucifixes or turbans on the job, survey suggests

Raptors fans far from home adjust plans to watch pivotal playoff game

Raptors currently lead the playoff series 3-2, and a win Saturday would vault them into NBA finals

PHOTOS: First responders in Fernie rescue baby owl who fell from nest

The baby owl’s inability to fly back to its nest prompted a rescue by first responders

Five takeaways from the Court of Appeal ruling on B.C.’s pipeline law

It’s unclear how many tools are left in B.C.’s toolbox to fight the project

Most Read