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Nelson City Council to consider 33 recommendations in new wildfire resiliency plan

The 2016 plan is being updated to respond to a more dire wildfire reality
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A new report to the City of Nelson on wildfire danger identifies several sections of nearby forest that present serious threats.

They are loaded with dead and downed trees and other dry woody debris – perfect fuel for a wildfire.

The hazardous areas include more than 200 hectares in the Giveout Creek drainage just south of Nelson, 27.5 hectares at Grohman Creek, 117 hectares in Blewett, and 2.5 hectares near the Nelson cemetery.

Dealing with those hazards is one of 33 recommendations in the new draft wildfire resiliency plan presented to council by John Cathro of Cathro Consulting and Monica Nederend of Bruce Blackwell Associates along with the city’s fire chief Jeff Hebert on June 20.

Because these forests are outside the city limits and mostly on Crown land, there is little city council can do on its own. Reducing the danger is the job of the Ministry of Forests, and the plan recommends the city advocate to the ministry to get this done.

But Mayor Janice Morrison told the Nelson Star the city can do more than that. She said the city has previously acted in concert with the Regional District of Central Kootenay, the province and timber companies, most notably in fuel mitigation projects outside the city above Mountain Station and in West Arm Park, and they can do it again in other locations.

The new plan is an update of the previous one published in 2016, which had already identified the above-mentioned forests as hazardous. Council will consider adopting the plan at a future meeting. It can be read by clicking item 12b at https://tinyurl.com/bdf9f6jt.

Most of the other recommendations in the plan deal with things the city does have direct control over, mostly centred around the FireSmart concept and its application in residential areas of the city.

Scott Jeffery of Nelson Fire and Rescue and firefighter Gerry Schmidtke in 2021 standing among wildfire fuels above Mountain Lakes Seniors Community in Nelson that were removed later that year. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

Making a property FireSmart means removing debris, coniferous trees and stored materials to make a property less flammable. The Nelson Fire Department provides FireSmart assessments to homeowners free of of charge. A trained assessor walks the property with the homeowner and offers suggestions and recommendations.

The report urgently recommends the city provide more public education on FireSmart and continue to employ a FireSmart co-ordinator.

If a wildfire enters Nelson, Hebert told council, it is likely that it will be ignited by airborne embers that can travel up to one kilometre from an active fire, rather than by flames advancing across the city limits from the forest.

“That is why FireSmart principles are important,” Hebert said. “They make your structure more resistant to accepting an ember.”

The draft plan also recommends the city develop evacuation routes in the city and then conduct drills.

It also encourages the implementing the recommendations of the 2021 Water Source Protection Plan and the recommendations in the Nelson Next climate plan. It recommends expanding Nelson Fire and Rescue’s in-house wildfire-specific training program and it encourages the

A jurisdictional puzzle

The mix of residential and forested areas just inside and outside Nelson’s city limits are known as the wildland-urban interface, or WUI, which is defined as the area with a density of more than six structures per square kilometre within one kilometre of the city.

The WUI around Nelson is made up of a mix of ownership types: private land, Crown land, city land, and parks. Much of the Crown land is licenced to timber companies, and two pieces of forest are owned outright by a timber company.

The red boundary indicates Nelson’s wildland-urban interface (WUI), the transition between the built environment and the natural environment, of which 56 per cent is privately owned. Crown land within the WUI is eligible for assessment and fuel treatment by the Ministry of Forests. Map: B.A. Blackwell and Associates
The red boundary indicates Nelson’s wildland-urban interface (WUI), the transition between the built environment and the natural environment, of which 56 per cent is privately owned. Crown land within the WUI is eligible for assessment and fuel treatment by the Ministry of Forests. Map: B.A. Blackwell and Associates

There are provincial resources available to conduct fuel mitigation work on public land. That work involves thinning the forest, removing fallen dry debris, and limbing trees up to a certain height, creating what is known as a shaded fuel break.

But there is no public money for such work on private land. Some of the most wildfire-dangerous forests in the rural areas around Nelson are on privately owned land, but it is an expensive job for landowners to do the mitigation work.

There is a land designation known as private managed forest land, which is forest privately owned by timber companies, such as the more than 600 hectares of land adjacent to Nelson owned by Anderson Creek Timber. Land in this category also is not eligible for provincial funding to do fuel mitigation work.

The new draft plan says the city should “investigate novel solutions” for fuel treatment on private managed forest land.

Out of the box

Hebert told council about three innovative projects that show some promise in reducing fire danger. The city is already conducting feasibility studies of all three of these ideas, using grant money.

1. Sprinklers on the roof of every house. The question is whether the city has enough water. (This idea is included in the 33 recommendations as a moderate priority.)

2. A water line along the rail trail with a sprinkler every 100 feet to create a wet zone. These could be deployed within a few hours and could also be run along specific roads or streets. This is being tried by numerous other communities, Hebert said.

3. Use of the water line between the municipal intake at Five Mile Creek and the Mountain Station reservoir as a fire suppression line once the intake line has replaced by a new one. This replacement is planned but not yet started.

Lessons from Fort McMurray and Lytton

Hebert told council that fire likes to travel uphill, making Nelson’s location in the bottom of a valley an advantage. He said recent fires near Fort St. John, B.C., and Fort Nelson, B.C., started on flat land with high winds in a remote area.

“Fires that start out on remote land, with wind and flat country are given the opportunity to grow,” he said.

But Hebert does not want Nelson’s relatively good geography to make people complacent. He said the towns of Fort MacMurray, Alta., and Lytton, B.C., were not destroyed by a flame front, but by airborne embers.

Herbert described video footage of one house in Fort MacMurray that was extinguished three times after having been repeatedly restarted by embers.

“This was from the embers that were under the boards in the decks and in the wood pillars of the building. It was amazing to watch the time lapse footage of that.”

He said once embers have started fires in a town, it is “structure-to-structure ignition” that firefighters worry about.

In Fort McMurray an investigation has shown the houses that did not burn were FireSmart, he said.

“In Fort Mac the route the fire took was from un-FireSmart house to un-FireSmart house. In 2003 in Kelowna, most of the houses that burned all had cedar shingles or cedar siding.”

READ MORE:

Nelson at highest risk for wildfire, expert says

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

• FireSmart assessment an eye-opener for Nelson homeowner

New report outlines how to protect Nelson’s water sources

Firesmart program has homeowners ‘thinking like an ember’

New wildfire fuel mitigation work planned for Nelson area

Nelson fire department cleans up urban wildfire fuel on city property



bill.metcalfe@nelsonstar.com

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33140133_web1_230629-KWS-WildfirePlan-Hebert_1
Wildfire consultant and forester John Cathro (left) with Nelson’s fire chief Jeff Hebert at Nelson City Council’s June 20 meeting. Photo: Screenshot, City of Nelson council meeting video


Bill Metcalfe

About the Author: Bill Metcalfe

I have lived in Nelson since 1994 and worked as a reporter at the Nelson Star since 2015.
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