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From one crisis to another: fire to floods

David Zirnhelt’s weekly column to the Free Press
Ranch Musings columnist David Zirnhelt. (File photo)

As I write this, we have pouring rain, just the amount that might help to diminish the fire danger. But is it the right amount at the place? There isn’t anything that individuals can do to change the weather, but we can change our lifestyles and adapt our businesses to have a smaller footprint: less greenhouse gas emissions, reduced resource demand, and adopting practices that will renew resilience in natural systems.

For instance, if the rain run-off takes with it valuable nutrients, we can buffer our land uses with permanent crops, trees, and gentle ditching which takes water and diverts it to land that needs it.

We can fireproof more of our land and buildings.

Fighting fires and floods must be done for sure. Being prepared is also good. Hope comes with knowing you have done what you can in a positive way.

My main message today is to reflect on what more we can do. I know of the efforts by various levels of government to assist communities to be prepared. It seems there is never enough of that.

The cattle sector, through its organization the BC Cattlemen’s Association, has trained ranchers to be liaisons with the fire service and the local ranchers.

More can be done in the off-crisis season to prepare organizations and their members to be leaders in the communities. This would include facilitating discussion about the rights of citizens to stay at their places in the event of a flood or, especially wildfire events.

It is my understanding that once evacuated, some property owners can get a permit to go back in to take care of livestock, but others cannot. It is difficult for those fighting the threatening fires to turn their backs on people who have decided to stay in place even after being ordered to evacuate.

If someone dies or is seriously injured because the fire overtook them, what good does it do to say it was their own fault because they stayed when “ordered” to leave?

On the other hand, we see that local citizens who stayed, claim they have saved many houses in the Shuswap area. That may be, but what about the people who took fire equipment that was protecting a bridge which was the only escape route from those remaining in the fire zone?

Often there is a greater good, the lives of many, versus the individual property interests of others. A hard choice for leadership.

I humbly suggest that more extensive debriefing and studies of what transpired this year need to take place. Much more than what has been done in years gone by needs to take place. During a crisis is not the time for mutual education: communities and government.

Local community leadership needs to be even more ready for the events to come. The government generally will have to be there with them. I say this knowing that recruiting evenhanded leaders to volunteer positions is challenging.

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