City shares public concern on wildfire risks

City working on mitigating risk inside municipal boundaries, province is responsible for managing risk outside city limits.

Cranbrook has been unscathed from wildfire in recent years

Cranbrook has been unscathed from wildfire in recent years

In light of what has happened up in Fort McMurray amid the devastation from a wildfire, Cranbrook is assuring residents that there is a plan in place should a blaze light up near the city.

City staff regularly refer to the Community Wildfire Protection Plan, which looks at potential wildfire threats on city-owned land. both within municipal boundaries and up in the Gold Creek watershed.

The challenge is working with the province in areas such as the Community Forest, which is not within municipal boundaries and is the responsibility of the provincial government to treat for wildfire hazards.

“In the meantime, I cannot emphasize enough the seriousness of this issue and I ask that all people are especially careful in the woods,” said Cranbrook Mayor Lee Pratt. “We can and must take all precautions to prevent a human-caused fire in these areas.”

To date, most parcels with hazards that jeopardize city or private assets have been treated through grant funding from the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) and others.

The City also has made it clear that it will not undertake fuel treatment projects beyond city-owned lands, as it may be deemed negligible if City assets are destroyed as a result of undertaking projects on non-city lands prior to city risks being treated.

Wayne Price, the Director of Fire and Emergency Services, says staff has identified all areas of risk on city-owned properties.

“We want to mitigate those first before we would even consider assuming any projects on crown land or private lands or non-city lands,” Price said. “Where we’re at right now, is we’re not completed with work on city lands.

“Our concern and my concern would be we’ve got limited funding—up to $400,000 a year type of thing, if it’s approved. So right now, we still have interests at risk south of town in the Gold Creek area.

“We’ve got a lot of infrastructure out there that could potentially be at risk as a result of wildfire…if we were to take on a project in the Community Forest—ahead of the risks on city land that originate on city land—and we compromise some of our assets, it could be deemed negligent.”

However, there is a dialogue going on between the city and the province to look at a larger-scale plan to treat wildfire hazards on crown land, said Price.

“We are looking at broader scope, a large scale plan, however, there’s lots of obstacles to overcome,” Price said. “There’s government policy, there’s some regulations that need to be changed, and these are the types of things that we’re hoping that they’ll work on to free up, so we can take on these things on a larger scale.”

Price adds that the south, southwest of the city have the most wildfire risk because of wind direction and speed, uphill slope values, and a rail corridor that could cause sparks from rail ties, along with other potential human-caused hazards.

According to wildfire growth models from the B.C. Wildfire Service, two scenarios of wildfire originating several kilometres south of Cranbrook end with substantial loss of essential infrastructure and public and privately owned land values within a 12-hour period.

“There’s risk from every side. Everybody can probably state an argument why they should be first but our biggest risk is that south, southwest,” said Price.

Current priorities, as funding and cost-recovery opportunities become available, are previously treated areas in need of maintenance and areas of the watershed that still need a first-pass treatment.

“I want to assure residents of Cranbrook and surrounding area that we will continue to meet with all stakeholders and work toward a long-term sustainable solution satisfactory to all parties,” said Pratt. “Council and staff of the City of Cranbrook are committed to ensuring the safety of our community and surrounding area.”