Government acts on fireguard woes, residents say

A fireguard of a mount of dirt on the property of a Southside resident in July. Some people have said the BC Wildfire Service has taken more action towards rehabilitation of fireguards since the summer. (Submitted photo)

It was a difficult summer for some Southside residents frustrated by the process of fireguard rehabilitation, but there has finally been some progress.

The fireguards, consisting of high mounds of dirt dug up by the BC Wildfire Service (BCWS) during last year’s wildfires were still on the properties of some residents as late as July.

READ MORE: Fireguard removal woes vex Southside residents

People had complained that BCWS procedures of asking residents to provide price quotes from landscaping contractors for the cost of taking down the fireguards were complicated and tiring.

Clint Lambert, Electoral Area E director with the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako was initially critical of the way the BCWS had dealt with property owners.

However, the situation eventually changed for the better.

“Things are moving along,” he told Lakes District News on Oct. 10.

“My neighbour was reimbursed by BCWS for $3,300 to fix his fireguards. I helped him do it with his and my equipment.”

There is also progress with Lambert’s property, where during the wildfires in 2018 BCWS crew members had rerouted a creek while building a fireguard.

“Today a biologist is coming out to inspect it before they rehabilitate it,” the director said.

Ben Wilson, a forestry contractor with Zebe Holdings was also having a tough time into the second half of the summer.

“I would say up to that point we weren’t happy either. It was taking too long to get going. But they got on it around the first of August and then things have been steady since then,” he said.

“The government has been responsive. It’s just the delay that caused problems.”

Wilson’s company was contracted to do the rehabilitation work on Crown land for the Cheslatta Carrier Nation. Most was done around Cheslatta Lake and south of Ootsa Lake, which was south of the area of the Cheslatta fire.

He couldn’t give a precise number of kilometres remaining of fireguard, but he said the work was two-thirds completed compared to what was there in March.

READ MORE: Fireguard rebuilt near Cheslatta Lake

“Some [of the work] here will be delayed until next year but they could’ve gotten done if they had been started sooner,” Wilson said.

The experience of others in the Burns Lake area, like Ken Nielsen shows that the fireguard issue remains to be resolved.

“[As the] manager of Chinook [Community Forest] I’m disappointed with the progress of work being done. The amount of red tape involved is the major factor of timely work being performed,” he said.

“[As a] private land owner it took me over five months to settle with BCWS. They do nothing to help land owners through the process of compensation other than putting up walls and hoops to jump through.”

Most of the required fireguard rehabilitation is not yet finished, according to data from the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD).

Of the 193.96 km of remaining fireguard from the Verdun fire, 96.98 km has been rehabilitated; 3 km has been done in Cheslaslie Arm, out of 11.73 km in total; 53.39 km of fireguards remain in Cheslatta and 324.47 in Nadina and neither have been done.

In terms of wildfire rehabilitation, such as stabilizing soils and restoring hydrological functions, the remains of 10 out of the 14 fires in the Skeena Region are complete, said FLNRORD spokesperson Dawn Makarowski.

Blair McBride
Multimedia reporter
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