Living in the middle of a forest can be spectacular, but during wildfire season, which comes earlier and earlier every year, it can also be frightening; and without a community-wide evacuation plan, even terrifying.
The past week has been filled with images of things burning. As wildfires raged in Fort McMurray and Fort St. John, Powell River had its own minor scare with a one-acre fire near Wilde Road gravel pit.
Wildfire season is upon us again and, if it is anything like last year when nearly three times as many hectares burned as the 10-year average, we can expect more fires.
Many of the largest fires in BC last year, which burned more than 300,000 hectares of forest, did not threaten communities, but if one thing is to be learned from the devastation in Fort McMurray, no city is safe from fire.
People throwing cigarette butts out of car windows are the best example of complete ignorance to fire safety, but with reports of vandalism in the backcountry and “party” fires being lit from wooden pallets, furniture, old tires and other refuse, it is only a matter of time before disaster strikes the area.
Evacuating an area such as Powell River, which is surrounded by trees, does not come with a simple or solitary answer. As Powell River Regional Emergency Program manager Ryan Thoms has said, every situation is different and the concept of having one evacuation plan for unlimited disaster scenarios does not work.
City of Powell River mayor Dave Formosa is working to have BC Ferries vessels home-ported for evacuation purposes, but ferrying people over to Texada Island would be arduous and time-sensitive. Lengthening the airport runway to accommodate larger planes is another idea that has been suggested.
Another much more preventative and potentially unpopular idea, one that has also been suggested by the mayor and mentioned in Powell River Regional District’s Community Wildfire Protection Plan, is to cut down trees in a line beyond the city to create a fire break.
The costly undertaking would require the cooperation of the regional district, city and Tla’amin Nation, with a portion of the costs being recouped through harvesting of trees. Brush and trees on either side of the fire break could be thinned out and deadwood could be removed from the forest to further prevent the spread of wildfires inside city limits.
Logging trees is a testy subject for a lot of people, but with the imminent threat of forest fires, Powell River could stand to lose a lot more than forest if appropriate action is not taken.
Jason Schreurs, publisher/editor