Region district and wildfire management agree on two issues

This past summer the Regional District of Bulkley Nechako board expressed frustration over communication procedures.

Wildfire Management Branch (WMB) executive director Brian Simpson was in Burns Lake on Nov. 21 to make a presentation to Regional District of Bulkley Nechako (RDBN) board members.

This past summer the RDBN board expressed frustration over communication procedures between RDBN staff, the Vanderhoof/Fort St. James (VanJam) fire centre, and the Prince George fire centre.

A large forest fire in the Fraser Lake area – the Peta Mountain fire – destroyed a home last August. Regional District of Bulkley Nechako staff only found out about the threat to property after the damage had been done. Staff scrambled to assist the displaced family (‘Regional district gets little info from fire centre’ Aug. 21, 2013), and would have appreciated earlier communication regarding the developing situation.

The safety and security of residents is a mandate for the RDBN and they have extensively developed and tested protocols for dealing with all manner of natural or human-caused disaster. But if information doesn’t reach RDBN staff, they cannot act.

Since then, reported RDBN chair Bill Miller, staff have worked through a number of issues with the VanJam and Prince George fire centres.

“There’s still a little angst around a few things,” Miller said. “But I think we’re generally going in the right direction.”

Challenges WMB faces in conveying information hinge on the quickly-changing nature of forest fires.

“Information flow when it comes to forest fires is essential, and it’s a real challenge even internally to our own organization,” Simpson said. “Largely because of the dynamic nature of fires.”

“The bigger challenge is that [we] provide information and almost as soon as [we] provide it, it changes because of the dynamic nature of the fire,” Simpson explained. “The worst case scenario is that we give information to local government and before you know it, it is out of date because things have gone sideways.”

Simpson assured RDBN directors that streamlining communications and developing consistent communication protocols across different fire centres (Nadina, VanJam, and Prince George fire centres all operate within the RDBN) was a WMB priority, and one of his top priorities.

A larger issue that both the RDBN and WMB are concerned about is fuel mitigation. With large stands of dead and drying timber thanks to the mountain pine-beetle epidemic, both agencies are concerned about the possibility of large forest fire events.

“The fire management situation in B.C., like in the rest of the world, is changing, and it’s not changing for the better,” Simpson said. “We need to focus on our response side of the equation, but also on the landscape level. We need to ensure that our landscapes are in a state where we can protect against those… large conflagration fires like Binta Lake.”

In 2010, the Binta Lake fire grew to over 400 square kilometres threatening residents and property.

“We need to create more resilient landscapes out there to prevent these kinds of large events,” Simpson said. “Larger stands in mother nature’s world were meant to burn on a more regular basis.”