Residents in outlying areas fireguarding their communities

By Paul Dickinson

Lillooet News

The Town Creek and Seton Lake fires of 2004 showed local communities the vulnerability of a dry, fuel-packed climate.

Now, a little over a year later, various local groups are pulling together to ensure any future forest fires will be less intense and easier to control. By fireguarding the surrounding slopes, organizations in Xaxli'p, the Yalakom, Cayoose Creek, Seton Portage, and Texas Creek are providing their communities with excellent fire protection, according to Lillooet fire zone manager Steve Newton.

"The area around Lillooet is a fire-dependent ecosystem," says Newton. "Historically, forest fires have been a natural part of the cycle."

Newton says that forest fire fighting and prevention tactics over the last 100 years in B.C. have led to the accumulation of fuels on the forest floor, making for larger and more intense fires. When an area has a ground fire, he says, the forest thins out, deer and other animals can find food, and the area is less susceptible to future forest fires.

Currently, crews remove and burn dangerous fuels, such as dead logs and sticks or dried bushes. For example, Michelle Edwards of the Cayoose Creek band hired 14 local students to work part-time after school for six weeks to clear heavy brush areas. The band spent $25,000 and cleared fuels on 40 hectares of land.

"I wrote a proposal to the First Nations Forestry program," Edwards recalls, "and we decided we wanted to do the project as a community initiative. It gave our students the chance to learn about forestry and get some work experience. They just loved it.

"I wanted to do this project to protect my home, my family's homes, and my friends' homes," she continues. "Also, if we plan to get involved in harvesting in the future, we'd rather have healthy trees than burnt ones."

Newton commends Edwards for taking the initiative and organizing the project.

"Michelle and her group are really doing the right thing," Newton says. "It's excellent to see. They've called us (the Forest Service) to ask for advice, and we're always happy to help."

Seton Portage crews have been burning the hillside to fireproof it for several years, Newton says. Texas Creek volunteers Jacquie Rasmussen and Lori Smith have created a contact list in the event of a fire, and are hoping to develop a plan for fireproofing over time. They held a public information meeting at the Lillooet Golf Course on May 4, and are currently awaiting a response from the SLRD on funding for interface fires. The funding is available through the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM), and was put in place as a result of the Filmon Report on forest fires.

"In order to apply for the funding, (the Texas Creek area) had to be identified as a high-risk zone," says Rasmussen. "Along with residents in Fountain and Pavilion, we urged the SLRD to apply."

Rasmussen says SLRD Area B Director Mickey Macri has been working with local communities on this effort.

"We realized that our area is quite vulnerable to forest fire," Smith says, "especially some homes in the area around Riley Creek that are above the road.

"We don't have access to Radio Lillooet or cell phones out here, so we need a way to get the word out in case of an emergency."

In Xaxli'p, a four-man crew has been thinning and pruning trees for 30 metres along the roadside on reserve land for the past two months, says Xaxli'p fire Chief Ed Mountain.

"We started our fire safe program several years ago," Mountain says. "We know we need to get involved and make sure we protect our homes."

Fountain resident Tom Grantham organized a community trailer with firefighting equipment, which can be used by the Xaxli'p fire department, the Forestry service, or local residents to fight a forest fire until full crews arrive.

"Xaxli'p has been just awesome in their support," says Grantham. "It's great to see the communities all pulling together."

Mountain says plans are afoot to fireproof the area around Fountain Lake as well.

"It's a good program," Mountain says. "It not only protects the area, but it's safer for drivers too. It's easier to see around corners now that the trees have been trimmed."

A group of volunteers in the Yalakom, working with fire warden Doug Reimer, has an ongoing work schedule to fireproof the area.

"There's still lots more fuel to manage, but we have some people trained now, and we're really mitigating the fuel problem in our forests," says Reimer. "It's so much more comfortable now than when we started."

Reimer says the Fire Smart manual, available from the Ministry of Forests, is an "excellent guide" to organizing a fireproofing program.

"We relied a lot on the Forest Service at first," Reimer notes, "but eventually we got a handle on things.

"We figured we could either do something ourselves or wait for the big fire."

Bridge River Lillooet News June 29th 2005.

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