Recognizing wildfire risk and responding to it

Janet Moje

In the last article of this series we covered reducing our wildfire risk in the community. This article will focus on the wildfire risks in our area and what it takes to become a FireSmart community.

McBride / Dunster Risk
McBride / Dunster Risk

Tete Jaune Cache Risk
Tete Jaune Cache Risk

Valemount Risk
Valemount Risk

What is our wildfire risk?

When you look at the maps, you can see the patches of greater risk in each area, but in general when it comes to wildfire, McBride and Dunster are a low to moderate risk, whereas Tête Jaune and Valemount is moderate to high risk. 

Recognizing wildfire risk and responding to it

You can look up your specific location on this map.

When asking BC Wildfire Services about Valemount specifically, Amanda Reynolds, the Fire Information Officer said, "The topography of this area works in our favour; the majority of fires start on mountain slopes, and fire spread tends to be uphill, away from values [buildings]."

How is wildfire risk assessed?

Using a 10-point scale, wildfire risk is based on the following criteria: 

  • Specific area - topography, site level, and previous mitigation activities.  
  • Fuel - ground fuel (needles, woody debris, deadfall), surface fuel (juniper, scotch broom), ladder fuel (low branches, leaning deadfall, pine saplings), and crown fuel (conifer canopy). 
  • Vegetation types
  • Historical wildfire data - previously burned areas are lower risk
  • Forest fuel classification - mainly conifer versus deciduous
  • Fire behaviour patterns
  • Geography
  • Fire density (occurrence)
  • Fire suppression difficulties
  • Spotting potentials (ember storms)
A score of 7 and above represents high or extreme risk. 

What has been done?

2009 Crown Land Fuel Mitigation Project on McKirdy Road
2009 Crown Land Fuel Mitigation Project on McKirdy Road
Janet Moje PHOTO

In 2008 a “Crown Land Fuel Mitigation Project” exercise was done on McKirdy Road in an effort to reduce the risk on crown land adjacent to the community. Volunteers from Wildfire Protection, BC Forest Service, Friends of Valemount, Valemount Fire Department, Lion’s Club, and individuals from the community participated to complete the first step of this project. A wildfire assessment was done for the Valemount area in 2012 and most of the identified trouble spots have been mitigated by Community Forests.

"There comes a time when you will look at the forest and see fuel, not trees."
– Anita de Dreu, Emergency Preparedness Coordinator, Regional District Fraser-Fort George.

What we need to consider

Fort McMurray investigator, Alan Westhaver of ForestWise Environmental Consulting Ltd. outlines what a successful community needs to do in "7 Disciplines of Wildfire Risk Mitigation":

  • Vegetation Management
  • Public Education/Communication
  • Legislation & Regulations
  • Development/Building
  • Planning
  • Training
  • Inter-agency Cooperation

All of Westhaver's recommendations are covered when building a FireSmart Community Plan and recruiting a FireSmart Board of all interested parties and community members. 

The FireSmart Plan is developed around the following criteria:

  • Education
  • Vegetation management
  • Legislation and planning
  • Development considerations
  • Inter-agency cooperation
  • Emergency planning
  • Cross training

FireSmart Educational sign, McKirdy Road mitigation
FireSmart Educational sign, McKirdy Road mitigation
Janet Moje PHOTO

What we need to DO

The Canadian FireSmart Program encourages communities to apply to become a recognized FireSmart Community with the following criteria:

  • Contact FireSmart and register 
  • Site Visit - a specialist will visit and assess wildfire hazards. 
  • Community Representation - recruiting a FireSmart Board.
  • Assessment & Evaluation - hazard assessment and evaluation of the community’s wildfire readiness
  • Creating A Plan - develop a FireSmart Community Plan 
  • Implement Solutions - follow a schedule and maintain the program into the future.
  • Apply for Recognition - submission of application, FireSmart Community Plan and FireSmart Event documentation. 
  • Renewing Your Recognition Status - Annual renewal and your community’s continued participation.

Currently we are at the first step of the FireSmart program in Valemount, with our Mayor, Owen Torgerson looking into registering with FireSmart Canada. The next step will be our assessment of wildfire hazards, and recruiting a FireSmart Board.

I urge anyone who is concerned about our wildfire risk to come forward and volunteer to be part of Valemount's FireSmart Board. This is something that affects all of us and we need to come together to successfully protect our community. A FireSmart Board can (and should) include homeowners and fire professionals and possibly land managers, planners and members of other interest groups.

The benefits of becoming a FireSmart Community

While there is funding available from various sources to assist with the implementation of FireSmart Programs, the real benefits are found in:

  • It creates a defensible space that prevents fires from advancing and endangering homes and lives.
  • It reduces the probability that wind-driven embers falling far ahead of a wildfire will ignite a fire on or around your home.
  • It improves property value while reducing risk of loss.
  • It improves community relationships with local fire staff. Firefighters can concentrate their efforts on fighting wildfires rather than devoting often limited resources to protecting homes – which may ultimately be lost if the fire can’t be contained.
  • It encourages good neighbours, since the more homes within a community that adopt “FireSmart” practices, the greater the impact on reducing the heat and speed of the fire.
  • And it offers peace of mind, knowing that your home is prepared to survive a wildfire in the event one should occur.

Find out more about becoming a FireSmart Community at:

Homes that don't survive:
Up to 80-90% is caused by embers that find fuels to ignite within 10m of the home. 

Homes that do survive:
85-90% of homes without flammable roofs and 10m of clearance will survive a wildfire.

“Fire outcome depends on actions taken well BEFORE fire starts” 
– Alan Westhaver, ForestWise Environmental Consulting Ltd. 

In the next article, we will consider emergency preparedness plans and what needs to be done in the event of a wildfire alert.