Smoke from the Mount Law wildfire billowing from forest surrounding residences on West Kelowna's Preston Road on Aug. 18. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)

Wildfire mitigation successful, but there’s more to do: West Kelowna fire chief

City has given 49 grants to property owners to aid in the removal of combustible materials

After a summer marked with heat and wildfires, with one encroaching a local neighbourhood, the City of West Kelowna’s fire chief said they’ve had successes, as well as a lot of work to still do.

West Kelowna Fire Rescue chief Jason Brolund and Parks and Fleet Operations Manager Stacey Harding provided an overview of how fire mitigation and education have gone in the community.

In all, Brolund said that the city has given out 49 Community Resiliency Investment (CRI) grants to encourage property owners to remove combustible materials on their property. The number may not seem like a lot, but he said he and city staff are still working to process other grant applications, so there may be more money to give out.

He said that overall, the CRI grant program was a success, as it incentivized mitigation and protection and encouraged property owners to participate.

Brolund added that they’ve had success with wildfire mitigation and FireSmart work in two West Kelowna neighbourhoods: Casa Loma and Griffiths Road.

“We will see, hopefully by the end of the year, those two communities receive their neighbourhood FireSmart designations,” he said.

Harding said while much has been done, more work still has to be done in 2022 to keep West Kelowna communities from wildfire risk.

He said forested areas have been cleaned up: ground debris that could serve as fuel have been cleaned up and low-hanging tree branches have been taken off. Harding said they have a long way to go in terms of treating Mount Boucherie, as well as several other parks in the city.

Now, the next step is to apply for more CRI funding and be more proactive with fire mitigation, according to Brolund, and to use some of that funding to hire a FireSmart coordinator to help them with the more administrative parts of the program.

“A lot of the work we identified in 2021… will spill over in 2022. We just didn’t have the time to achieve all of that nor (did we have) the resources,” he said.

“The nature of an effective FireSmart strategy requires multi-year programming in order to achieve the results that we desire… we’ve found that managing these multiple strategies with grant funds has become very administratively complex and as a part of our plan for 2022 and our grant funding, we are recommending that a FireSmart Community Coordinator position be established to assist with this workload.”

Brolund added that the goal is to have the FireSmart coordinator liaise with the BC Wildfire Service, Westbank First Nation, as well as UBCM.

Brolund also proposed FireSmart labourers, who will focus on fire mitigation work within the community. He proposed that the city apply for the maximum grant contribution from the province for $150,000 and that council allocate the funding for the FireSmart coordinator and labourers.

Council approved the proposal, with only Coun. Rick de Jong opposed.

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B.C. Wildfires 2021City of West KelownaOkanagan