Penticton expands plans for wildfire protection

Penticton Fire Department aims to develop a professional fuel management prescription plan

While the City of Penticton has been lucky to escape destructive wildfires, like the one that recently destroyed homes in Peachland, it is by no means immune to the problem.

The Penticton Fire Department is hoping to capitalize on work being done in the regional district to develop a professional fuel management prescription plan. In 2006, working with funds made available after the 2003 Okanagan Mountain fire, Penticton had a community wildfire protection plan created, specifying areas and levels of wildfire hazard within city boundaries.

Acting on the plan, and working with city and Ministry of Forests crews, the fire department carried out the first and only fuel management project on the Esplanade area above the yacht club. However, there were a number of areas identified in the plan where work could be done to reduce the hazard.

“This request for funding to take forward the development of fuel management prescriptions is the next step in our process of community wildfire protection program,” said deputy chief Dave Spalding. The process for fuel management operations has changed since the first study, and a prescription plan is now needed to determine and protect ecosystem attributes.

The prescription might include thinning, spacing and pruning of trees and the removal of needles and woody debris from the forest floor to reduce fuel load and the potential fire danger.

“This is step two in a four-step process. Our regional district has done some of this work already and the person they contracted has done some of the work in Penticton in the course of his duties,” said Spalding, explaining that council support is needed in the form of a $5,000 contribution to gain a further $15,000 grant from the UBCM Strategic Wildfire Prevention Initiative.

“The fuel management prescription program will give us 75 per cent funding from the UBCM, with a 25 per cent contribution from municipal tax dollars,” said Spalding. “With that money, we can get a professional forester to do the prescriptions and come up with a plan for us to follow in the years to come, when we actually get down to doing the fuel management on the ground.”

While council supported the grant contribution, some of the councillors had more immediate concerns about fire mitigation, including Coun. John Vassilaki, who pointed out an area at the top of Ridgedale he felt was at high risk of an interface fire, due to the number of homes in the area as well as people using trails on the city-owned property.

“Someone just has to throw a cigarette and the whole place is going to go up, including part of the city,” said Vassilaki. “Those are the areas I am concerned with. There are hundreds of other residents in the same area and it’s dangerous.”

Spalding agreed that the area is high on the fire department’s list, and was identified in the 2006 plan.

“We always get people in there hiking and camping,” he said. “It’s one of our 18 high-hazard areas that are mentioned in our plan. It’s one of the ones we want to focus on.”