CastleRock focused on fire safety with FireSmart designation

Public event Saturday, May 19th focused on fire safety

The CastleRock Estates Community Association is hosting an event this Saturday, May 19th, focused on fire protection measures and how other communities can work towards being a FireSmart-designated community.

The Invermere neighbourhood located off Westside Road was granted official FireSmart status recently after several years of demonstrating interest and effort in making the community safer from the risk of fire. Kathleen O’Neill and Ben Mitchell-Banks, co-chairs of the CastleRock FireSmart committee, explain their initial efforts have been in educating the community and encouraging homeowners to focus on the area immediately surrounding their homes (up to 1.5 metres).

The FireSmart designation “is a symbolic step forward, that says the majority are open to this,” explains Ms. O’Neill. While she admits CastleRock still has a long ways to go in reducing fire risks, this is a good step forward.

“Our hope is to get more residents to look objectively at their house. There are easy things people can do, and they will feel safer, because really, they are helping themselves.”

Ms. O’Neill and Mr. Mitchell-Banks have faced resistance from homeowners who feel a wildfire would never reach their door. But, they caution, it is not the actual wildfire that causes the greatest risk: it is flying embers that can drift downwind quickly and ignite fuel sources near a home that could cause a ‘spot fire’ to occur.

“It’s not the heat from fires, nor is it an actual wildfire hitting your home, it’s the embers,” says Ms. O’Neill. “In Fort McMurry’s case, the blizzard of embers were just finding every piece of fuel around the house that they could, which was easy to do.”

Steve Levitt, BC Wildfire Service officer for the Invermere zone, says it takes community champions like Ms. O’Neill and Mr. Mitchell-Banks to rally a community around fire safety.

“If one house in 100 is done, it probably doesn’t change the outcome for that neighbourhood,” says Mr. Levitt. “An awareness is a start. Start at your home and move outwards (when looking for and addressing risks).”

Acting fire chief Jason Roe says the responsibility lies with individual homeowners to ensure their property is safe. Homeowners should be aware of fire hazards in the immediate vicinity of the home, such as wood piled against the house, eavestroughs full of pine needles, juniper bushes, or bark mulch.

The communities of Rushmere and Akisqnuk First Nation have FireSmart designations already. Ken MacRitchie, Rushmere community association director, told the Pioneer they educated residents and rounded up volunteers to promote fire protection initiatives in the community of 44 lots. Mr. MacRitchie saw interest rise with education in the neighbourhood, based on steadily rising volunteer hours per year to FireSmart initiatives such as clearing underbrush and removing dead trees.

Andrew Malucelli, natural resources manager at Akisqnuk, reports they received their FireSmart designation following several community events including an awareness day, removing wood chips around the band office, ongoing maintenance around fire hydrants, updating information with the Windermere Fire Department, reviewing wildfire protection plans, thinning bushes in ditches, offering FireSmart treatment of trees and bushes on individual lots, and more.

In the District of Invermere, works crews have done operational treatments on District-owned land over the past 10 years, reports Rory Hromadnik, DOI director of development services.

“It’s reducing the fuel: taking limbs off, doing spacing – reducing the fuel load on the sites,” describes Mr. Hromadnik. “The District can treat our park spaces, the land we own, and crown land. There’s no funding or authority for private land.”

The public is invited to the 2nd Annual FireSmart event in CastleRock this Saturday, May 19th, from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. in the new District of Invermere park located between Taynton Trail and Brewer Ridge roads, in Phase 3 of the CastleRock development. Greg DuBois, RPF and owner of Summit Valley Contracting Ltd. will be on site to highlight the results of the CastleRock Estates Community Wildfire Protection Plan and help residents understand more about fuel reduction.

“Like most communities in the Columbia Valley, CastleRock Estates was built in a new type of closed dense forest, far different from the previously open grassland/forest land that existed in the Columbia Valley. This dense understory surrounds our homes and puts us at an increased risk of an intense wildfire. We invite other residents in the Valley who are interested in implementing FireSmart principles, to join us to learn more about how to mitigate our risks,” said Ray Schoepfer, President, CastleRock Estates Community Association.

For more information on FireSmart, visit www.firesmartcanada.ca.

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