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South Hills the first in Quesnel to get FireSmart accreditation

Group effort cutting down the threat of wildfire in city neighbourhood

Community spirit in the South Hills neighbourhood is hot, right now, but they’re doing everything possible to make sure it doesn’t catch fire.

Some areas have a Block Watch but this part of town just became the first in Quesnel to be officially designated a FireSmart neighbourhood, after putting in effort, assessment, and more effort to reduce the chances of a wildfire ravaging their particular cluster of homes. There is a significant urban forest, in South Hills, so the work was substantial but so is the constant concern.

The British Columbia FireSmart and FireSmart Canada organizations work with local governments and community associations to evaluate the threat of fire, in an area of interest, and work on subtracting the problems or adding the deterrents. South Hills took on the challenge and earned the designation after months of neighbourhood cleanups and individual homeowners taking steps to cut down - literally, in many instances - the risk of an interface fire.

“To achieve this designation, homeowners performed activities around their homes to reduce the risk of wildfire. Through their efforts, they not only made their own property more defensible, but their street, neighbourhood, and ultimately the city, more resilient as a whole,” said a statement of congratulations issued by the City of Quesnel.

Forestry initiatives manager Erin Robinson said “The South Hills neighbourhood is the first, and we are targeting other neighbourhoods in the coming years; out on the Quesnel-Hixon highway in 2023 and then the neighbourhood around Sugar Loaf in 2024. All of the neighbourhoods that we are targeting are next to fuel management areas that are part of our Community Wildfire Protection Plan.”

Carrying out the neighbourhood liaising and much of the fieldwork is retired forestry professional Ted Traer, who guided the South Hills people through the process. He pointed out that some popular landscaping techniques have been shown to actually invite fire damage. Decorative cedar trees against a house, bark mulch along the edge of your deck, overhanging evergreen branches, and so much more can turn well-intentioned aesthetics into gasoline in the event of a fire.

“It’s not a massive wall of flame, like some people imagine, it is a blizzard of embers. It’s an ember storm. That’s what ignites the fuels around people’s homes,” Traer said.

Sadly, there has been a lot of available science coming from incidents like Slave Lake, Kelowna, Fort McMurray, Lytton, Cache Creek, Monte Lake, and scads of smaller communities that have stared into the hungry red eyes of wildfire. Williams Lake had to be entirely evacuated, in 2017; Prince George had two mills inside city limits burn to the ground (Canfor’s North Central Plywood in 2008 and Lakeland Mills in 2012), and in 2021 Quesnel had the log-yard fire to remind everyone it can happen right here and it often comes from a sudden incident with, not necessarily a forest fire that eventually arrives.

“What’s this year going to be like? You can spin the wheel and flip the coin as well as I can,” he said, as to how much danger all our communities and neighbourhoods will be in, just by virtue of it being summertime. “The concept is: strength in numbers. You can do all the preventative things on your house but if your neighbour has everything possible that’ll burn on theirs, then where are we collectively, right? FireSmart recognizes that the more we can do as a neighbourhood, the more resilient we are as a neighbourhood.”

Your neighbourhood, subdivision or community can get FireSmart recognition status by meeting the following criteria:

- Enlisting a local FireSmart representative to complete an assessment and create a plan that identifies locally agreed-upon solutions that the neighbourhood can implement.

- Striking a Neighbourhood FireSmart Committee which maintains the FireSmart Plan and tracks progress.

- Conducting FireSmart events each year that are dedicated to a local FireSmart project.

- Investing a minimum of $2 per capita annually in local FireSmart efforts.

- Submitting an annual report to FireSmart Canada that documents continuing compliance with the program.

“Getting FireSmart recognition status not only ensures that your neighbourhood is prepared for wildfire, it can also be a great way to spend time with others in your community,” said Robinson. Contact her at 250-255-6002 or erobinson@quesnel.ca for more information on how to make your home more fire resistant or how to start up a FireSmart program in your neighbourhood.

May is FireSmart Awareness Month.

READ MORE: May is FireSmart Month

READ MORE: Five municipalities in Cariboo Fire Centre get FireSmart grants