Wednesday, May 29, 2024
May 29, 2024

Editorial: Fire risk reality

Understandably, the devastation wrought by recent wildfires in B.C., the rest of Canada and Hawaii has islanders rattled and wondering “what’s the plan?” for evacuating Salt Spring Island.

We know we have been lucky so far when it comes to wildfire, and most of Salt Spring is in a “moderate” rather than “high” risk category, but it seems likely that we will be impacted by a fire of significant size at some point in the future.

While some people want assurance that emergency planners and firefighters will prevent them from experiencing physical harm or property damage, there is no way to guarantee that. It’s not because the lead agency — the Capital Regional District (CRD) Salt Spring Emergency Program — and others like our fire department and the B.C. Wildfire Service are not prepared to respond to wildfires and/or effect evacuations. They are. But the terms “plan” and “emergency” don’t mingle well. How, when and where evacuation might occur would depend on where the fire is located and heading, as well as other factors.

As the 2023 Salt Spring Island Community Wildfire Resiliency Plan states: “Emergency planning, including evacuation planning, by the CRD focuses on rapid situation assessment, and an all hazards approach, rather than prescriptive plans that may quickly be overcome by situational uncertainty.”

The lack of specifics may not be what people want to hear, but it’s realistic. Also not comfort-making is knowing that the onus really does fall on us as individuals to take the time to learn about and use the emergency preparation resources available to us.

If you are not already connected to your neighbourhood POD as part of the CRD, send an email to to be added. That’s your best assurance of being in the communication loop most relevant to your property. If anyone in your household has special needs, that will be recorded and factored into any emergency response.

Signing up for the CRD’s Public Alert Notification System to get alerts about emergency situations is another must, and other salient advice is detailed in our story in this week’s issue of the paper.

Unfortunately, fear and uncertainty are part of the new reality we and future generations must live with as world leaders have refused to respond meaningfully to the climate change warnings first issued decades ago. We had best get used to it.

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  1. Reading John Vaillant’s Fire Weather, as fire raged through the Shuswap and Kelowna, is hair raising. His book chronicles the Fort McMurray fire of 2016, but beside the devastating play by play, it delves into causes and preparation. One point made over and over is that everything is fuel — grass, trees, houses, vehicles — everything except water and dirt. The name of the game is to prevent ignition. SSI is prime for conflagration, ironically because there hasn’t been an ‘event’ for many years. (The one I recall was around Bullock Lake, and destroyed the main under-construction lodge building.) What makes everybody nervous is the amount of bracken (mainly Scotch broom, blackberry patches and dead branches) just waiting for a spark. The island seldom gets lightning, but wind and high summer temperatures are common. There needs to be a large, community-wide thrust to lessen these threats. It is a daunting task, but doable with discipline, stamina, organization and the certainty that ignoring the obvious courts disaster. Start with a grid. Assign each section with mitigation responsibilities. Proactively patrol. Tie compliance to insurance (no clear, no coverage.) Purchase a firefighting vessel. I lived on Salt Spring, happily, for 25 yrs, 1990-2015. Five days after I bought the property, my then neighbour let a beach bonfire get out of control. It raced up the embankment and took out five mature fir trees on my side. The fire department got there lickity split and put it out. Had the flames gotten away…


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