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Time to focus on interface fuel cleanup: RDOS

Following a wildfire in the West Bench area this morning, regional directors said they want to see more funding from the province to reduce wildfire fuels in regional district communities at a regionial board committee meeting today, Aug. 3, 2017.
August 03, 2017 - 8:30 PM

PENTICTON - Community fire proofing and wildfire fuel management in regional district communities is a hot topic these days.

After recent fires in West Bench, Kaleden and Naramata, Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen directors are hoping they aren’t alone in suggesting more needs to be done to mitigate the dangers.

In meetings today, Aug. 3, Penticton Mayor and director Andrew Jakubeit suggested communicating with other regional districts about the issue of funding to clean up accumulated wood and yard waste in communities — waste that some say has become more problematic since the regional district enacted a burning bylaw several years ago.

Director Tom Siddon said one of his local fire chiefs believes that has led to a build up of fuel as residents pile yard waste in nearby gullies and vacant properties.

Siddon noted a recent wildfire in Kaleden raised issues of brush accumulation in the community and unkempt highway rights-of-way.

“I’ve always wondered, even in years when this wasn’t a critical issue, why we allow highways to neglect the cleaning up of the highway rights-of-way, which are natural conduits for moving fire from one property to another,” he said.

Siddon said little had been done with a report commissioned to Gary Filmon following the severe wildfire season of 2003.

“That report was brought in to tell us what we should be doing to prevent another great catastrophe like the summer of 2003,” he said.

“This year is said to be unprecedented, what happened in the month of July… we’re just beginning August,” he said, noting the biggest fires of 2003 occurred in late August.

Siddon also noted Filmon’s wildfire prevention program instituted as a result of the report was focussed on Crown lands and hydro rights-of-way.

“We really haven’t focussed on interface fires between populated communities. What are we doing to avoid that?” he asked the board.

Jakubeit said the topic was an issue worth bringing to the Union of B.C. Municipalities, suggesting further manpower for a clean up effort might be found at the newly opened Okanagan Correctional Centre, while Oliver Director Ron Hovanes suggested the board might want to rethink its regional growth strategy that promotes satellite communities in interface areas.

Oliver rural Director Terry Schafer said at a recent community event one of the most popular take-aways for people was a firesmart pamphlet.

Summerland Director Peter Waterman said while some money has been made available for communities to do small thinning jobs, it has been “way too little.” He said the regional district should be pushing for more funding.

Director Siddon noted a recent program initiated in the Shuswap region that required fire prevention approval prior to issuing a building permit for a house in interface areas, calling for the board to ask staff to put together a fire smart program and put teeth in a bylaw that would allow the district to enforce cleanup of abandoned properties.

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