As first responders worked to put out a grass fire on West Bench Thursday, several Regional District of Okanagan-Similkmeen directors questioned if government was doing enough to mitigate fire risks.
Tom Siddon, director for Area D, said there are a number of individuals throughout his area that are eager to fire safe their communities.
“There is a group in Kaleden that really want to get going on this. I think there’s a lot of public education that needs to go on and work that can be done,” Siddon said. “People are asking what can they do. They want to get engaged.”
The community of Kaleden had a fire earlier this summer that burned down a house and outbuildngs, forcing a temporary evacuation.
Siddon said there’s a confusion in the community and others about what people should be doing to make their neighbourhoods and properties fire smart. He suggested a regional wildfire mitigation plan should be created and public education campaign undertaken.
“I used a weedeater to cut the long grass along the bank. I know some people would say I’m taking a risk when I do that but there’s also a risk leaving the long grass,” he said.
Michael Brydon, director for Area F (West Bench), returned to the meeting after checking in on his home, which was near the fire evacuation area.
He called for the RDOS to again lobby the Union of British Columbia Municipalities to increase the Fire Smart Program so more communities can come up with their own fire risk reduction plans. Brydon called the program “a good first step” but voiced concerns that more in-depth plans are needed.
“All anyone has to do is to walk out into our interface. We are falling so far short on this. We can’t rely on community groups to solve this. We need to push the provincial government,” he said.
Mark Woods, community service manager for the RDOS said two communities received $10,000 grants from UBCM this year to create fire smart programs.
For other communities, Woods said consultations could be arranged with a wild fire expert.
Woods said people needed to be incredibly vigilant as dry conditions continue.
He suggested cleaning up yards, not using power tools that might cause sparks and staying out of the back country with equipment that could cause a fire.
Questions came in from several directors about people camping in the back country and if there was anyway to stop that from happening.
Woods was clear that at this point the public has the right to camp on Crown Land for a maximum of 14 days but suggested if anyone sees a fire anywhere that they immediately call 911.
“This is something we hear on the EOC calls every day. This is a problem everywhere,” he said. “I’ll tell you, if I saw someone having a campfire anywhere right now I would be calling 911.”
A more in-depth report about regional options for reducing fire risks will be presented at the next RDOS meeting on Aug. 3.