Potential fire hazard sparks discussion
By Brenda Ann Babinski
With the thick smoke shrouding our view of the mountains we can take comfort in knowing the fire danger is still fairly far away.
But with July 2015 recently named the hottest month in recorded history worldwide, and dry conditions continuing, the safety of our own forests, and homes has raised concern.
An email from a Kimberley citizen brought the question to City of Kimberley council August 24. With the forests so closely surrounding the City of Kimberley, just how safe are the citizens and their homes?
Councillor Kent Goodwin, who is also a member of the Nature Park Society spoke to the concern, stating that since the 2003 destructive fire season measures have been taken to clean out the dead trees and dry underbrush from the surrounding areas.
“The forests around Kimberley have become quite dense and full of fuel as a result of many decades of natural forest fire suppression. We are now trying to thin things out by removing many of the smaller trees and clean up much of the woody debris on the forest floor that has resulted from trees blowing down in windstorms, dying from pine beetle attack or being knocked down by heavy snowfalls,” he said.
Work done by the Nature Park Society along with the efforts by the City of Kimberley are part of the Community Wildfire Protection Plan.
One area that is still of major concern is located between the Overwaitea hillside and Higgins Street (pictured above). “Currently the hillside is under review which means we can’t touch it. We can’t do any of our fuels mitigation there right now,” Kimberley Fire Chief Al Collinson stated.
The land in question falls under the Community Wildfire Protection Plan section #2, provincial nature park. “Because that area is under review by the Ministry of Forests we are unable to get a Section 52 which means we can’t cut trees,” Collinson said.
While the City of Kimberley is unable to proceed with further cutting, Collinson did state that further clean up in the area was in the works. “We can certainly clean up the piles that are there from past mitigations. We plan to get those cleaned up this fall. It won’t help with the dead trees that are standing, but we can certainly clean up the piles that were left.”
Ministry of Forest Rocky Mountain District Manager Harry Mitchell confirms that concerns surrounding the slope stability are behind the work stoppage in that area. “We are concerned about cutting down trees and destabilizing the soil further. We are working with the Pattison Group to come up with more of a mitigation proposal for that hillside,” he said.
The Jim Pattison Group owns the Overwaitea Foods located in the area affected. “It is Crown Land but we are obliged to work with Overwaitea Foods. They have the most to gain or lose by putting some stability effort into that hillside,” Mitchell explained.
“Pattison Group could reinforce the hillside and do all sorts of things with our blessing. Right now they are just collecting information. I’ve given Overwaitea Foods two more months to get this back to me,” he continued.
Mitchell believes that the Ministry of Forests, the City of Kimberley Fire Department and the Pattison Group will be able to work together to come up with a viable course of action in a timely manner.
“We do not want a fire there first and foremost. But without risking life or limb or a big dirty fire, we would like to do our diligence on that part of the hill,” he said.
Photos by Walt Babinski