By Steve Hubrecht

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Even though the wildfire season seems far removed, with Lake Windermere frozen and snowflakes in the air, a recent panel discussion in Invermere emphasized the need for local residents to be prepared for wildland blazes.

The discussion was held Tuesday, Nov. 21 in the Columbia Valley Centre and the panel included Invermere Fire Chief Jason Roe, B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resources Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD) senior ecosystem restoration specialist Al Neal, FLNRORD wildfire technician Katherine Grahn, RCMP Sgt. Ed DeJong and Invermere Mayor Al Miller.

Invermere FireSmart Coordinator Carey Collin told the Pioneer the purpose of the panel was threefold: to share information with residents; to allow local first responders a chance to ‘show and tell’ about the mock wildfire disaster scenario carried out this past spring; and to help increase the public’s confidence about the valley’s readiness for wildfire response.

More specific topics within those categories ranged from the latest in fire suppression techniques to how evacuation orders work.

“Unfortunately it wasn’t well attended, but the panel was amazing,” said Collin.

Around 20 people, aside from the panel members, were at the event. Many of those who did attend were people within the firefighting and first responder communities.

“It was not exactly who we were targeting. Those people (within the firefighting and first responder communities) tend to already know a lot about how we deal with wildfires. We were hoping to get more members of the general public,” explained Collin. “But, aside from that, I’m pretty happy with how the discussion went. There was plenty of great information shared. If we’d held this in the middle of wildfire season, when fires are top of mind for many people, we probably would have filled the hall.”

And despite the fact that firefighters are usually busy fighting fires in the height of summer, the organizers of this panel are mulling doing another such event at that time in order to get their message to as many people as possible.

“We dodged a bullet in our part of B.C., in terms of wildfires. Not everyone in the province was so lucky . . . we are in a high risk zone for wildfires (in the Columbia Valley),” said Collin. 

He noted the Horsethief Creek wildfire burned 4,000 hectares on Mount Bruce this summer, 10 kilometres away from Invermere.

“That’s a drop in the bucket compared to what could burn here. That’s our concern,” said Collin. 

Being prepared is crucial, he explained, adding that’s true not only for local firefighters and first responders but also for individual residents.

“Don’t be complacent. Don’t forget Fort McMurray. They thought they were adequately prepared there, but these days we’re dealing with dry and hot conditions and fuel loaded forests like we’ve never had before,” said Collin. “Whatever you can do at your home to reduce ignition potential and to reduce fire intensity will enhance our capacity to battle forest fires. That’s you and me. That’s every private landowner. It’s not a question of if we will have a wildfire on our doorstep, but a question of when.”

Panel discussion attendees watched a video made by B.C. Wildfire Service (BCWS) about the mock wildfire disaster scenario this past spring. 

To view the video online, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=hfN-nJSGUOM.