The devastating effects of B.C. wildfires have shaken the rural communities over the past few years. Cheslatta Carrier Nation, which is located on the southside of Burns Lake, brainstormed over ideas to combat these wildfires and come up with an initial emergency response — the result of which is eight wildfire equipment trailers and one industrial trailer.
“In case there is an accidental spark, or a power line falls, and a fire starts, or even during the wildfire season, then we want the community to have some initial response available with them, before the fire services or forest service arrive on the scene,” said Mike Robertson, Senior Policy Advisor for Cheslatta Carrier Nation.
The trailers are basically 12 feet long, enclosed cargo trailers that are equipped with 275 gallon water tank, two volume pumps, 800 feet 1 1 and a half inch fire hose, 250 feet three fourth inch fire hose, nozzles, fittings, tools, first aid kit, spare parts and other necessary equipment and gears for the initial fire response. These trailers will be unmanned and each individual would be expected to use the equipment if need, using their own skills.
Cheslatta Carrier Nation held a demonstration for its staff and people on June 2 where people from the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations (FLNRO) were present to show how to use the equipment inside the trailer. “We are putting on workshops and there will also be an instructional video online to show people how to use the equipment,” said Robertson.
The trailers were made possible by a donation from Rio Tinto, who operate the Nechako Reservoir, in a Cheslatta territory. They contributed $98,000 to help with this wildfire preparedness project, to purchase and supply the community response units.
“The safety of our employees and the communities we work in is a top priority for Rio Tinto BC Works. We are pleased of the work the Cheslatta Carrier Nation is doing to prevent the spread of wildfires with its Community Response Units,” said Affonso Bizon, the general manager for Rio Tinto BC Works. During the 2018 wildfires, Rio Tinto supplied face masks for residents who stayed behind to save their animals and livelihoods. They also provided food for the evacuees and the fire fighters and contributed $100, 000 to the Burns Lake Community Foundation to support not-for-profit and community fire response initiatives. However, when Cheslatta Carrier Nation approached them with the idea of mobile response units, Rio Tinto decided to be a part of this project with the coordination from the Regional District of Bulkley Nechako, the B.C. Forest Fire Services and Cheslatta Carrier Nation.
“We negotiated getting the trailers with Rio Tinto just because of the fire incidents we have had before. And we all witnessed and experienced it so we really wanted something that is an immediate response to fire,” said Cheslatta Chief Corrina Leween, adding that the idea is to put the trailers in spots that are especially volatile during the fire season. “We thought it would be a good idea to spread the trailers around and if there was a small fire, an immediate response to that fire could save an entire forest. The year before, small lightening strikes ended up being a catastrophe in wildfires. So we are just hoping this will help.”
The trailers or community wildfire response units, will be located at Takysie Lake, Grassy Plains, Cheslatta Road, Ootsa Lake, Uncha Lake, Southbank, Colleymount and Tchesinkut Lake.
“These units will provide an additional level of protection to the local population, and it is our hope that by working proactively together, we will never see a scenario like the 2018 wildfires again,” added Bizon. The units are a first such initiative for the region and Robertson hopes that this will serve as a model for other remote, semi-rural or rural communities.
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