Logan Lake has written the Fire Smart playbook for other cities, towns to follow | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Logan Lake has written the Fire Smart playbook for other cities, towns to follow

The Tremont Creek wildfire within Logan Lake, Aug. 14, 2021.
Image Credit: FACEBOOK/Logan Lake Fire Rescue

When the Tremont Creek wildfire escaped containment lines near Tunkwa Lake on Aug. 11, Logan Lake was among the communities put on evacuation alert.

Fuelled by yet another heat wave in B.C., it continued to burn seven kilometres south through dry forest. By Aug. 12, all of Logan Lake was evacuated and two days later, the fire was within municipal boundaries.

It seemed reminiscent of Lytton, where early estimates said 90 per cent of the town was razed just six weeks earlier. But anyone who thought Logan Lake might go as Lytton did, didn’t understand what Mayor Robin Smith knew — her community stood a better chance than any others of coming out of a wildfire successfully.

“It’s still there,” she told Clearwater mayor Merlin Blackwell, Aug. 15. The town had survived.

But this was no miracle. Logan Lake survived largely untouched because of nearly 20 years of work preparing for this eventuality. They’ve written a playbook, of sorts, on how to protect themselves from a wildfire and it’s becoming required reading in nearly every B.C. community.

READ MORE: Firefighters, emergency responders who saved Logan Lake leave behind signatures and positive messages

By now, most people have heard of their rooftop sprinkler system. Smith says she’s already fielding calls from other municipalities across the province inquiring about the program that has been in place there since 2013.

Forest management, however, is “where the real work is,” Smith said.

"We've been moving this along for quite some time. There's a lot of people over the years that have had a vision and been pounding the pavement because it's not always easy to convince politicians to spend that money," Smith said. "Our previous fire chief said to Council that (wildfires are) not a matter of if but when.”

The money she’s referring to is roughly $100,000 to start the Logan Lake Community Forest, a logging and forest management corporation solely owned by the community.

"You can imagine how well that was debated. That's a lot of money for something they're not quite sure is going to work," Smith said.

In 2007, Logan Lake was one of the first communities in B.C. to sign a Community Forest Agreement, which allows the corporation to licence plots of Crown land in the area for logging rights. The corporation manages nearly 17,000 hectares of Crown land surrounding Logan Lake, extending northwest nearly to Alkali Creek and Sugarloaf Hill. All Crown land the corporation holds rights to remain on the west side of Highway 5, southwest of Kamloops. Nearly 13,500 hectares of that land is considered harvestable for timber.

"Back when we started, it was all really new. Nobody knew what Fire Smart was and we were educating the public and selling the idea. People were really, really attached to their forests and don't like to see change in their forest," Smith said. "What we've discovered over time is when you mitigate... it all grows back like a park. Now you have a green forest floor and it's not only safe, but it looks beautiful as well."

READ MORE: The real cost of refusing to evacuate the White Rock Lake wildfire in the Okanagan

When the agreement was signed between the Province and Logan Lake, it overlapped with existing logging licenses held by Tolko, Weyerhauser and West Fraser Logging. It’s now one of more than 50 community forests across the province, and one of just two in the Thompson-Okanagan.

Westbank First Nation currently holds the other Community Forest Agreement in the Central Okanagan and manages over 46,000 hectares of forest.

The work of clear-cutting and reforesting its licenced land is done to mitigate future wildfire risks, while revenues are put toward Fire Smart strategies. The community-owned corporation has three councillors on its board to make sure council's interests are always considered.

Funds the corporation generates from cut blocks are used for fire mitigation within District boundaries and public education. From cleaning the forest floors to trimming trees and carefully replanting a mix of fire-resistant tree species after cutting.

Smith also added that the District can apply to the Union of B.C. Municipalities for provincial grants that can be put toward fire mitigation. There are three provincial grants for communities which can be used to reduce wildfire risks within the communities or on Crown land.

iN VIDEO: Kamloops pilot shows Interior wildfire destruction from the sky

The forest that surrounds Logan Lake can sometimes extend one kilometre from the nearest private property to the municipal boundary. In those areas, eight high school students are hired each year to remove tree limbs up to nine feet off the ground.

Trimmed branches and plant matter cleaned from the forest floor are put in slash piles and burned in early winter with the help of an arborist, according to Wilson. Roughly 200 slash piles near Logan Lake are burned each year through forest management efforts.

After more than ten years of forest management through the student program, Wilson said the students cleaned the last portions of forest that had not been cleaned yet. Next year, they'll be back at the beginning to start the process over again, he said.

The community effort was not enough to stop the encroaching wildfire, but it went a long way in saving the town.

It reduced fuel ahead of the fire before it reached Logan lake. The community’s famous rooftop sprinkler operation — each home requires a rooftop sprinkler — can be set up within three days. This time, they got it down to 24 hours.

It saved firefighters valuable time and allowed them to focus on structural protection. The Tremont Creek wildfire breached the town’s northern border, but went no further.

“It was a big help, and we certainly encourage communities to take those measures to fire-smart their properties in the adjacent area and slow a fire down,” wildfire service information officer Greg Jonuk said.

After the Tremont Creek wildfire breached the edges of the community, they will reassess which areas of the surrounding forest to focus their efforts in 2022, with the help of forest management consulting firm, Foresite.

READ MORE: Here's what a hectare really looks like

While Logan Lake has been deemed a Fire Safe community, one of the first in the province, the forest management done in and around the community won’t stop a wildfire in its tracks — but it does save homes.

Residents who want to fire-smart their own home and neighbourhood can find tips at firesmartbc.ca. While a homeowner, of course, cannot affect forest management on Crown land, it can provide peace of mind to know that a home is as safe as possible prior to an evacuation, and it will save time for firefighters attacking an aggressive wildfire.

Smith said that any community considering taking on the task of seeking Fire Safe approaches should start with one neighbourhood. An approach that looks at the community as a whole can be overwhelming.

"Sometimes that's all you have to do. People will see what you've done and they'll learn from you. It's a little bit of a domino effect," she said.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Levi Landry or call 250-819-3723 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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