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How Vernon is planning to get ahead of the next fire season

Some of the destruction in the Killiney Beach area of the White Rock Lake wildfire.
Some of the destruction in the Killiney Beach area of the White Rock Lake wildfire.

Following the devastating wildfires in the Thompson and Okanagan regions this past summer there’s a lot of community interest in FireSmarting homes.

So much so that many cities have dedicated firefighting staff helping train people on the process, including Vernon Fire Rescue Service that recently hired Alan Hofsink as its FireSmart coordinator.

FireSmart has been proven effective in eliminating or, at least, minimizing damage to homes during wildfires when homeowners do things like thinning trees so their branches are at least three metres apart and clearing flammable material away from homes.

Thinning of larger stands of timber is also helpful but only goes so far in reducing the risk of catastrophic fires.

“With mitigation, it removes a lot of the heavy fuels, a lot of the deadfall, underbrush and stuff like that, which is great,” Hofsink told “Prescribed burning is really good because it regenerates and renutriates the soils and eliminates a lot of the weeds and deadfall, small stuff that we can’t clean up.”

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that municipal firefighting forces have no ability to go onto Crown land or private property.

Further bad news is that prescribed burns can only be done under ideal conditions.

READ MORE: B.C. residents can choose when they want their forests to burn

“The City of Vernon has a number of projects,” Hofsink said. “We were going to kick off a few in the spring, but the spring got really dry really fast.”

The paperwork is in place for two burns on city-owned land but the fall burning window is closed.

“It got really wet really quick, which is great,” Hofsink said. “But, the material gets too much moisture and doesn’t burn properly and it defeats the purpose of the prescribed burn.”

While work will be done to prepare for a spring burning window, the focus this winter will be on mitigation.

That starts by getting the word out to communities that are close to forested areas. Already, Hofsink has put on some events that have drawn considerable interest and people have been dropping into the firehall to pick up FireSmart information.

“I think the (White Rock Lake) fire across the lake rattled a few nerves,” he said. “People have a keen interest in making sure their properties and the neighbourhood properties are safe.”

READ MORE: 343 homes destroyed during B.C.’s unprecedented wildfire season

FireSmart Canada started in 1990 when a national committee, led by the Alberta Forest Service, was formed to deal with concerns about wildfires threatening homes. That grew into the FireSmart brand in 1993.

More information on FireSmart Canada is available here.

B.C. FireSmart also has online resources available, including a Homeowners Manual.

More information on B.C. FireSmart is available here.

There is also a City of Vernon online publication called Wildfire Risk Reduction in the North Okanagan, available here.

But it’s more than just letting people do a Google search to find such material. That’s why Hofsink has been hired for one year, funded by grant money, with the city applying for funding for future years.

This winter he will focus on two programs.

The Neighbourhood Recognition Program is aimed at getting at-risk neighbourhoods working together to bring in a specialist to develop a plan to FireSmart for their neighbourhoods.

The Home Partners Program is focused on having assessments done on individual qualifying properties that results in recommendations that the homeowner can carry out to FireSmart their homes.

More information on the Vernon FireSmart program is available here.

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