Getting ahead of fire season

Chelsea Powrie

Following two record-breaking wildfire seasons in the Okanagan Valley, the Penticton Indian Band and the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen have teamed up on a project to reduce fire risk in the area below the Carmi Forest Service Road. 

Crews are currently chopping down potential fuel for fires and laying them on the forest floor in the area, called "thinning out the understory."

"So we're taking out all stems that are less than 12.5 centimetres in diameter," said John Davies, Davies Wildfire Management. "They're being [cut into logs] and [de-limbed] so that they're flat, so they will be easier to burn in the spring."

The 150-acre project is just the latest in a string of Okanagan Valley projects that are aiming to reduce potential wildfire fuel, as well as honour local traditions of the Okanagan Nation.

Penticton Indian Band Chief Chad Eneas said periodic burns are a part of the history of his people, helping to ensure the land is revitalized and the local ecosystem sustained. 

"This is a legal tradition within our territory, and it is unceded, so this is real recognition and reconciliation in action," Eneas said. 

Controlled burns help animals like bighorn sheep by replenishing their food source, burning off old, dead grasses to make way for new ones. The new grazing ground will be key to support the local bighorn sheep population during winter months.

At the same time, getting rid of excess foliage provides a buffer zone against fires that could potentially sweep down the mountain into the Penticton valley. 

"A big part of this is to give crews a chance, reduce forest fuels that contribute to fire behaviour," said Jon Finlay with the Penticton projects are vital.

Davies said that he has seen an increase in communities around the Okanagan Valley looking for larger-scale pre-emptive burn projects like this one, which will end up being roughly 150 acres in size. 

"I think the fact that we've had two big fire seasons over the past two years is getting people more interested and supportive of this type of work," Davies said. 

Crews will be chopping down small trees and brush and leaving them for the winter to dry out, making for better fuel when spring rolls around. The prescribed burn will either take place in early spring or early fall 2019. 

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