Fire Chief Len MacCharles and his 72-hour evacuation kit that he recommends for all households in Nelson during fire season in case of an evacuation. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

Fire Chief Len MacCharles and his 72-hour evacuation kit that he recommends for all households in Nelson during fire season in case of an evacuation. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

VIDEO: Develop a personal wildfire plan, B.C. fire chief says

72-hour evacuation kit recommended

Len MacCharles wants you to develop a family evacuation plan and put together a 72-hour survival kit. He wants you to do it now.

“A wildfire impacting Nelson: it is not if, it’s when,” Nelson’s fire chief told last week’s Wildfire and Climate Change Conference. “It is highly likely. The impacts to health, property, the environment, people, is going to be pretty serious.”

It’s hard to predict what that fire will look like, he said.

“It would depend on the fire, the conditions, the circumstances, the wind. Was it a fire that started five kilometres from the city and making its way here? Or it is a lightning strike that struck very close?”

MacCharles was hired by city council several years ago partly because of his experience as head of emergency management in Calgary and as the incident commander at the wildfire that destroyed much of Slave Lake, Alberta, in 2013.

MacCharles said a reporter asked him at the time what it would take to put the Slave Lake fire out.

“My answer was, when this fire rolled into Slave Lake, if I had all the resources that I had in Calgary, which was 90 pieces of heavy apparatus and 1,400 fire fighters, if I had had all that in Slave Lake, a fire that was described as like a blow torch, I could not have stopped that fire.

“If a fire wants to come in to your community bad enough, it’s coming.”

The Fort MacMurray fire was not predictable, MacCharles said, because the fire danger rating was not very high at the time. But it was the perfect storm.

“It was the dryness, the wind, all those other circumstances. And the perfect storm is coming more and more often,” he said, referring to earlier conference sessions that had explained how climate change is gradually increasing temperatures and reducing summer precipitation across the Kootenays.

Several years ago, forest fire expert Bruce Blackwell told Nelson city council that Nelson was on his “top ten list of communities in B.C. for the next big fire.”

“That was not just an off-the-cuff remark,” MacCharles said. “He (Blackwell) has actually backed that up with studies and information. It is not just fearmongering.”

How has Nelson responded?

MacCharles said Nelson is developing a wildfire management plan, two main components of which are fuel treatment and the Fire Smart program.

Fuel treatment typically means working by hand, modifying forest vegetation by retaining large dominant trees, thinning and removing small trees, removing deadfall, pruning the lower parts of the retained trees, and burning everything removed.

MacCharles explained that the city and the Regional District of Central Kootenay have been doing fuel treatment work in the city and on crown land outside it, but it is expensive and time consuming and has received “mixed to poor” response and engagement from residents.

He said the FireSmart program, which provides a free professional assessment for property owners in what they could do to reduce fire danger, has had moderate uptake in Nelson and surrounding area but is improving. Owners of forested properties near the city are not compelled to do anything to reduce dangerous fuels, and MacCharles said he is hoping for more provincial government incentives for them.

He said residents become more motivated “when there is smoke on the horizon” but interest tends to drop off otherwise.

MacCharles gave conference participants a thorough list of firefighting challenges in Nelson including a list of critical infrastructure that will need protection, including water supply, hydro, wastewater treatment, communications, hospital, schools and airport. He also talked about evacuation.

“If you say ‘evacuation’ quickly, you can move on and say it’s OK, we got it, it’s all good. But it is a huge nightmare and even with planning and trained people, it is going to be chaotic. Nelson can have up to 20,000 people, (including visitors and rural people working in town) at any given time.

“It is not inconceivable to imagine a wildfire would affect at least one of the three transportation routes out of Nelson. So now you have 20,000 people in an evacuation, trying to get out of town, all on the same road.”

MacCharles also touched on recovery.

“The economics of a wildfire going into a place like Nelson is just off the charts. We are a community of small shops. Most small businesses can go 30 to 60 days without money coming in and going out before they go out of business. You start losing too many businesses, your employment hub drops off, there is a cascading effect. Tourism takes a long time to recover, and the social and mental health impact is huge and it takes years to recover.”

The contents of a 72-hour emergency ‘Grab ‘n’ Go Kit’ can be found on the RDCK website.

Related stories in the Nelson Star:

• Past Kootenay weather extremes will become new normal, scientist says

• FireSmart program an eye-opener for Nelson resident

• CBT funding Nelson $137K for wildfire mitigation

• Wildfire fuel treatment expands in Nelson area

• Action by Nelson area landowners key to wildfire safety, expert says

• Fire experts: Nelson could burn

• RDCK plans wildfire fuel action

• West Arm Park fire prevention plans move forward

• Column: Will West Kootenay forests survive?

• Fighting fire with fire

• More planned forest fires needed: wildfire expert



bill.metcalfe@nelsonstar.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Len MacCharles speaking to the 215-person audience at the recent Wildfire and Climate Change Conference in Nelson. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

Len MacCharles speaking to the 215-person audience at the recent Wildfire and Climate Change Conference in Nelson. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

Just Posted

Crystal Johns used her lunch break to film her audition video for the Vancouver Canucks.
VIDEO: Former Vees anthem singer wants to bring her voice to the Canucks

Crystal Johns made her audition tape during a lunch break

The Village of Keremeos is preparing to open up the village to in-province travellers as the province enters Phase 3 of its reopening plan. (Brennan Phillips - Keremeos Review)
Electric vehicle use continues to rise in Keremeos

August saw 147 vehicles for the peak of the year

Four staff members at the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen were self-isolating on March 19. The regional district is also considering whether to continue keeping its doors open to the public. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
Feedback wanted on plan to make West Bench age-friendly

Some 43 per cent of West Bench residents are over the age of 55

The Okanagan Regional Library is holding a pair of online contests for its young readers. (File photo)
Okanagan Regional Library challenges young readers

Pair of contests online aimed at kids aged up to 18

Penticton Real Canadian Superstore
New COVID case at Penticton Superstore

The last day the employee worked was Jan. 21

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders sits in on a COVID-19 briefing with Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, and Adrian Dix, B.C. minister of health. (Birinder Narang/Twitter)
PHOTOS: Bernie Sanders visits B.C. landmarks through the magic of photo editing

Residents jump on viral trend of photoshopping U.S. senator into images

Auldin Maxwell stacks the 693rd block on the top of record-breaking Jenga tower on Nov. 29. (Submitted)
Salmon Arm boy rests world-record attempt on single Jenga brick

Auldin Maxwell, 12, is now officially a Guinness world record holder.

A woman injects herself with crack cocaine at a supervised consumption site Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Drug users at greater risk of dying as services scale back in second wave of COVID-19

It pins the blame largely on a lack of supports, a corrupted drug supply

A Dodge Ram pickup similar to this one was involved in a hit-and-run in Lake Country on Saturday, Jan. 16. (Crime Stoppers photo)
Stolen truck involved in Okanagan hit-and-run

Incident happened on Highway 97 in Lake Country just before 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 16

Wet’suwet’en supporters and Coastal GasLink opponents continue to protest outside the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, February 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
‘We’re still in it’: Wet’suwet’en push forward on rights recognition

The 670-km Coastal GasLink pipeline was approved by B.C. and 20 elected First Nations councils on its path

Kelowna Fire Department. (FILE)
Early morning downtown Kelowna dumpster fire deemed suspicious

RCMP and the Kelowna Fire Department will conduct investigations into the cause of the blaze

Jennifer Cochrane, a Public Health Nurse with Prairie Mountain Health in Virden, administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Robert Farquhar with Westman Regional Laboratory, during the first day of immunizations at the Brandon COVID-19 vaccination supersite in Brandon, Man., on Monday, January 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tim Smith - POOL
Top doctor urges Canadians to keep up with COVID measures, even as vaccines roll out

More than 776,606 vaccines have been administered so far

From the left: Midway RCMP Csts. Jonathan Stermscheg and Chris Hansen, Public Servant Leanne Mclaren and Cpl. Phil Peters. Pictured in the front are Mclaren’s dog, Lincoln and Peters’ dog, Angel. Photo courtesy of BC RCMP
B.C. Mounties commended for bringing firewood to elderly woman

Cpl. Phil Peters said he and detachment members acted after the woman’s husband went to hospital

Dr. Jerome Leis and Dr. Lynfa Stroud are pictured at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto on Thursday, January 21, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
‘It wasn’t called COVID at the time:’ One year since Canada’s first COVID-19 case

The 56-year-old man was admitted to Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

Most Read