Fireguard removal woes vex Southside residents

Several Southside residents are frustrated after the BC Wildfire Service (BCWS) has rejected applications to remove fireguards it built around their homes last summer.

RELATED: Fire aftermath at Skatchola site

The fireguards in question are high mounds of dirt dug up by BCWS during last year’s wildfires. The BCWS has been asking residents to provide price quotes from landscaping contractors for the cost of taking down the fireguards.

“One guy has a house and his father-in-law’s house is on the same property. The fire service had dug a great big hole and lined it with plastic. He’s trying to get all of this fixed. The [contractor] told him it would cost about $10,000 to fix it. And [BCWS] flat out rejected it and said ‘that’s too much,’” as Clint Lambert, Director of Electoral Area E with the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako told Lakes District News.

“They keep saying ‘we need two or three quotes’ from contractors. But there arne’t two or three landscapers around here. Maybe one or two. When they get those quotes they say ‘that’s too much, we’re not even going to touch that.’ My personal feeling is we’re being stonewalled and they’re waiting for people to wear down and so they don’t have to do it, and they won’t have to pay for anything.”

Lambert said most people are tired of the application process and want to clean up the fireguards themselves but they don’t have the right heavy machinery for the task.

Meanwhile, the fireguards are a burden on Southside residents.

“A lot of it is psychological. It reminds them of the fires,” Lambert explained. “When you look our your window and you see a big hump all around your house – you relive that everyday you look out your window. The other part is that it’s an eyesore and if you ever wanted to sell your property you’ve got to have that fixed.”

BCWS crews built a fireguard around the home of Pat Kalaman while she was evacuated last summer.

“I came back to my house and the guard was there. No one told me they were building it. I didn’t know they were doing individual houses. [It’s] right around my house. Sixty-one metres, 4 metres wide, around the home. Twenty metres of my fence is broken down,” said Kalaman, who lives near Wisteria.

The contractors she has spoken to about the work became discouraged by what she said was the red tape and bureaucracy in the application process.

“It’s like batting your head against the wall. You don’t get anywhere. They obliviously sent equipment in here to do this. They should send guys back to clean it up. It’s the same with my neighbours. They’re in the same situation.”

In response, BCWS said it can’t address the situation with individual properties out of privacy concerns.

However, the service is responsible for government-constructed fireguards, said Jessica McDiarmid, Information Officer with the Northwest Fire Centre.

“It is the BC Wildfire Service’s aim to provide fair, consistent compensation to repair government constructed fireguards in a timely manner. All contractor quotes are reviewed to ensure they are financially responsible and comply with the requirements of the Wildfire Act and Wildfire Regulations. Section 15 of the Wildfire Regulation prevents the government from paying for aesthetic repairs, indirect or consequential damage to property, or reforestation costs.”

McDiarmid also referred to a letter by Jim D’Andrea, Resource Manager with the Skeena Region Wildfire Suppression Rehabilitation, in which he said the rehabilitation work depends on several factors – including the weather – and has to wait until decked timber is removed from the fireguards.

READ MORE: Fireguard rehabilitation a big, ongoing task

The magnitude of timber volume to be managed, mill yard capacity, recent milling curtailments, and both seasonal and unique weather conditions have affected timelines for machine work to start work on the fire guards.

The information officer said people with concerns about fireguards on their properties can contact BCWSClaims2018@gov.bc.ca.


Blair McBride
Multimedia reporter
Send Blair an email
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