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FOREST INK: Tactical plan for wildfire risk in Williams Lake

Looking at the Fox Mountain and South Lakeside Wildfire Risk Reduction Tactical Plan in Williams Lake and area
Jim Hilton pens a column on forestry each week for Black Press.

Last week I was provided with a link to The Fox Mountain and South Lakeside Wildfire Risk Reduction Tactical Plan (WRRTP) and asked for my input as an adjacent resident to one of the areas.

The plan will look at fuel management to reduce wildfire risk to properties in those areas.

Since the plan is of interest to many other private land owners, I decided to summarize the information in this article and note the public education section below. 

The WRRTP is intended to streamline fuel management treatment planning across large, complex areas and enable development of connected fuel management networks in the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI), which is where forested areas and communities meet and put communities more at risk from wildfire. 

This plan considers the complex relationships between wildfire potential, wildfire response operations, forest management, and the community values at risk including private, public and commercial properties of the Area of Interest (AOI).

The Fox Mountain and South Lakeside Tactical Plan was initiated by the Cariboo Chilcotin Natural Resource District and the BC Wildfire Service (Cariboo Fire Centre) to address wildfire risk to human life and safety and critical infrastructure values around the community of Williams Lake and T’excelc’s (Williams Lake First Nation’s) Sugar Cane reserve.

The development of the plan was completed by Forsite Consultants Ltd. (Forsite) and Ember Research Services Ltd (Ember) with the support of Williams Lake First Nation’s Natural Resource Department. The key outcome of this plan is a series of proposed operational units – Fuel Management Treatment Units (FTU) and Assess and Monitor Units (AMU) – to help guide treatment to reduce wildfire risk to the community.

The tactical planning process included the following steps: Identifying and prioritizing the values at risk (VAR); identifying the current and desired wildfire risk level to these values; identifying the location and design of strategic fuel breaks, Wildfire Risk Reduction Units (WRRU), FTUs, and AMUs; conducting wildfire modelling to both inform decision-making and refine the identified units; and prioritizing of identified units.

PUBLIC EDUCATION. It is important to note that several FTU were located where hazardous fuels occurred between the unit and VAR on private property. In this case the overall effectiveness of fuel treatment on public land is less effective.

Fuel management works should be accompanied by an increased effort to educate homeowners where this is relevant. Additionally, research coming out of recent urban-interface disasters (Lytton and California) presents the case that catastrophic loss of homes due to wildfires is often due to structure ignition from ember showers which can ignite fuels surrounding, or in contact with, the structure.

Once a home, or other infrastructure, is ignited the fire can spread throughout the built environment and quickly overwhelm suppression resources. The best strategy to prevent loss of values within communities and on rural properties is to mitigate the hazard on the property by following FireSmart principles.