By Breanne Massey
Protecting against wildfires by reducing risk factors in rural communities has set the stage for Rushmere to lead the way.
Rushmere, the community located 14 kilometres south of Invermere along Westside Road (and approximately the same distance north of Fairmont), was recently recognized as a FireSmart community the first in the East Kootenay region to receive this designation.
Im responsible for the FireSmart initiative and bringing it to the community, explained Ken MacRitchie, Rushmere Community Association director. We dont have structural fire protection and we are bounded on one side by Crown land that has recreational use. We have Windermere Lake Park to the north of us, so on at least three sides, we are bounded by forests and a forest interface with our community.
He noted that the catastrophic events in Kelowna last summer and the ongoing fire bans that occurred here in the valley made it essential for Rushmere to develop a line of defense against wildfires.
We felt it was appropriate to raise awareness for our residents about their properties and how to reduce fire hazards in and around the houses, said Mr. MacRitchie, noting there are three zones that needed to become priorities where fire protection is concerned. We are looking to increase our protection around the community.
FireSmart Canada acknowledged the Rushmere Community Associations hard work on Tuesday, February 9th with the official presentation of a Community Protection Achievement Award and the installation of a FireSmart sign at the entrance road to Rushmere.
The award presentation was attended by BC Wildfire Service staff, a provincial FireSmart Canada representative, Regional District of East Kootenay staff, the fire chief for Columbia Valley Rural Fire and Rescue Services and other guests.
To earn the Community Protection Achievement Award, Rushmere was required to raise public awareness of FireSmart principles and teach private landowners how to help safeguard their homes from wildfire.
Steve Levitt, who serves as a forest protection technician with the BC Wildfire Service and assisted Mr. MacRitchie with the FireSmart program, emphasized the importance of fire safety while discussing the steps that can help reduce the spread of a fire if such an event was to occur.
Its one thing to lose a home, but its a whole other thing to lose an entire community, said Mr. Levitt. Basically, the (FireSmart) program is to increase awareness of the risks to the community from wildfires and to help then mitigate that risk and a lot of that mitigation is done by reduction of fuels within 100 metres of the houses.
In addition, Mr. Levitt urged the citizens of Rushmere to avoid planting Juniper Bushes up against the house to increase the odds of a house surviving a wildfire, and to clean the roof and gutters on a home.
(These steps are) critical to reduce structural loss in the event of a wildfire, said Mr. Levitt.
Jim Miller, the Regional District of East Kootenay fire chief who serves Windermere, Fairmont, Panorama and Edgewater, said he was pleased to see Rushmere taking steps to prepare for the future and to reduce factors that make homes vulnerable to fires.
He emphasized that the biggest challenge for rural communities that are trying to cope with wildfires is response time and added that a FireSmart-designated community could buy firefighters extra time before a fire spreads.
Rushmere doesnt have fire protection response in their area, other than forestry and thats not 100 per cent guaranteed that theyre going to get at it right away, he said. The steps the community can take to protect itself from wildfires in the short term can give firefighters a huge jump, just by FireSmart-ing their entire community.
In September 2015, the B.C. government and the Union of B.C. Municipalities launched the $500,000 FireSmart Community Grant Program to encourage more communities to participate in the FireSmart program. Grants up to $10,000 each for up to 50 communities are being offered to help communities receive a FireSmart designation.
For more information about FireSmart in Rushmere, call Mr. Levitt at 250-342-4214 or Mr. Miller at 250-342-6214.
The Homeowners FireSmart Manual was developed to help people reduce the risk of personal property damage due to wildfires. The manual is available online at http://bcwildfire.ca/Prevention/firesmart.htm.
Read more about FireSmart Canada at www.firesmartcanada.ca.