Saturday, April 1, 2017

Pincher Creek Emergency Services Commission hosts FireSmart open houses, releases mitigation strategy

Chris Davis - The Pincher Creek Emergency Services Commission (PCESC) sponsored a series of open houses mid-March at Lundbreck, Beaver Mines, Twin Butte, the town of Pincher Creek, and at Heritage Acres. The events featured presentations from Alberta FireSmart representatives and also served as a way to inform the public about the recently released Pincher Creek Wildfire Mitigation Strategy (WFMS), which assesses the wildfire risk throughout the Pincher Creek area. Wildfire season in Alberta officially began on March 1.  Related, the Alberta Government recently announced new wildfire protection regulations, which came into force March 31.  They include stiffer penalties for a multitude of infractions.

"The Pincher Creek Wildfire Mitigation Strategy was developed to provide practical and operational wildland/urban interface risk mitigation strategies to reduce the threat of wildfire to development in the MD of Pincher Creek and the Town of Pincher Creek." - WFMS

WFMS) includes a hazard and risk assessment of wildfire incidents, wildfire behaviour potentials, and FireSmart hazards for the Town of Pincher Creek, Castle Mountain Resort, Camp Impeeza, Beaver Mines, Burmis/Lee Lake, Lundbreck, Pincher Station, Lowland Heights, Twin Butte, Beauvais Lake, Cowley Boat Club, and other areas in the MD of Pincher Creek. It includes private lands, municipal lands, and provincial crown-lands within and outside the Forest Protection Area. It also includes detailed reports and recommendations for the areas of study.
"Structural fire in the responsibility of Pincher Creek Regional Emergency Services and wildfire management is the jurisdiction of Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, Wildfire Management Branch within the Forest Protection Area and Pincher Creek Regional Emergency Services outside the Forest Protection Area." - WFMS
The WFMS and the open houses were made possible by a grant from the Forest Resource Improvement Association of Alberta.  "This whole thing is geared by support from the Provincial government," said Director of Emergency Services Dave Cox.  "The provincial government has been really supportive."  Cox said the initiative began in the spring of 2015. "This has been in process for just over a year. It looks like we are being really smart, with what happened in Fort McMurray, but we are just being aware of the grant system.  I saw it as something we should be trying to do."

Above and below: Demonstrating the difference between a managed forestry and an overgrown forestry when wildfire strikes went a little awry due to Pincher Creek's infamous winds, but did show how quickly those winds can turn a fire into a raging disaster.

According to Cox, some priority areas for wildfire management are railway tracks and the communities that are near them, subdivision developments adjacent to the Crowsnest River, Castle Resort, Beaver Mines, the town of Pincher Creek, and Beauvais Lake. "That's the document, You'll see it talks a lot about communities, but then there's kind of general application for everybody throughout the municipality. Just common sense FireSmart stuff."
"Provincial wildfire data for the ten-year period from 2006 to 2015 shows a total of 75 wildfires were discovered and actioned within two kilometres of the development areas within or adjacent to the Forest Protection Area (Maps 2A-2L). 99% were human-caused and 1% were lightning- caused and the majority of these wildfires were abandoned campfires in areas frequented by random campers,".- WFMS
Forestry Consultant Stew Walkinshaw R.P.F. of Montane Forest Management was hired to research and create the WFMS, and was on hand at the open houses to discuss his findings and recommendations. "The key thing for folks in town is just to make sure that you keep your grass cut around your house, 10 metres, or out to your lot line," he said, adding that pring and fall are high risk times for wildfires. Of the process and conclusions, Walkinshaw sait the WFMS "looked at the hazard and risk for each of these communities, the threat of wildfire, to each, and came up with ways to reduce that threat."

From the WFMS - planning areas

According to the WFMS, Priority Zone 1 areas, which are withing 10 metres of a structure, "must be maintained regularly throughout the fire season" including watering and maintaining/mowing grass around all structures including outbuildings, cleaning of dead needles and leaves from roof, eaves troughs, and around structures, and storage of combustible materials (firewood, lumber, etc.) a minimum of 10 metres from structures. Priority Zones 2-3 areas, which are 10-100 metres away from structure(s), "should be inspected and maintained as required including" manage (mow/burn) native grasses, removal of dead and down and dead standing trees, thinning/removal of re-growth after original fuel reduction, and "conduct second-pass removals in existing areas that do not meet FireSmart standards."

Alberta Wildfire Management's Josh Hoddinott was another of the presenters at the open houses. "I am hear today talking about FireSmart. I am giving people some quick tips on how to protect their house a little bit better when it comes to wildfire." That included a homeowner's manual with a checklist (see below for something similar). He emphasized the importance of regularly cleaning dead leaves from your gutters. "It can make a huge difference in whether your house is susceptible or not. If your roof catches fire, it's hard to put it out."  He also said "A lot of treated shingles need re-treating, every 5 years."

According to Hoddinott, f your house is in the path of a wildfire, "Hopefully, there are things you have done, beforehand,"  such as the vegetation management mentioned above, including keeping your lawn trimmed and watered. "We recommend having an emergency kit prepared.  It's all about being prepared."  

Also available was information about the ways different plants burn, which some people may want to take into consideration.  "Juniper burns like gasoline. It looks really nice, but when you put that beside your house, it could cause some damage, whereas something like shrubby cinquefoil is less susceptible."

As explained in the WFMS, "FireSmart Canada has initiated the FireSmart Community Recognition Program to motivate and engage residents to plan and take FireSmart actions in their 'own backyards' to reduce wildfire losses from the 'grassroots' level.  The program is driven through identification and training of key Municipal and wildland fire agency personnel to act as Local FireSmart Representatives to guide the process and community members to act as Community Champions to lead and implement the FireSmart Community Recognition Program within their community."

According to data included in the WFMS, between 2006 and 2015 Camp Impeeza had 61 human-caused fires, Castle Mountain Resort had 9 human- caused fires, Burmis/Lee Lake had 2 human-caused fires, Range Road 3 has 1 human-caused and 1 lightning-caused fire, and Cowley Boat Club had 1 human-caused fire.

Pincher Creek Wildfire Mitigation Strategy excerpts:

Click here to view the WFMS in its entirety (pdf).

Stakeholders consulted with in the planning process included Pincher Creek Emergency Services Director Dave Cox, Town of Pincher Creek  Director of Operations Al Roth, MD of Pincher Creek Director of Development and Community Services Roland Milligan, and Alberta Wildfire Management Branch Wildfire Technologist  Richard Paton.
Released in November 2016, the Pincher Creek Wildfire Mitigation Strategy (WFMS) includes an assessment of wildfire hazards and their risk to development, and is "Based on interface hazard and risk, develop and prioritize recommendations to reduce the threat of wildfire to development in the planning area." It is intended to be reviewed and updated at five year intervals "to ensure it is based on current conditions." It includes an implementation plan to "assist stakeholders to budget and complete projects based on the priorities identified."

"This Wildfire Mitigation Strategy was developed using standardized FireSmart hazard assessment protocols and mitigation measures were developed based on the seven disciplines of wildland/urban interface approach and current research and knowledge in interface community protection. FireSmart mitigation measures recommended in this strategy reduce the threat of wildfire to communities but do not remove the threat."
More excerpts from the WFMS:
  • Provincial wildfire data was used for areas within the Forest Protection Area. Pincher Creek Emergency Services was not able to provide wildfire incidence data for the area outside the Forest Protection Area.
  • Pincher Creek Emergency Services reports that they respond to several fires caused by the railroad, power lines, and by landowner debris burning in the spring and fall seasons. Three fires in the past 10 years along the railroad right-of-way have resulted in structure losses or threats and a wildfire caused by a power line in October 2013 near Talon Peak Estates reached 15 hectares in size, threatened several country-residential dwellings, and resulted in response from Pincher Creek Emergency Services and Alberta Wildfire Management.
  • Roofing materials in the development areas consist of primarily of non-combustible materials except for Beaver Mines with a significant number of structures with combustible wood- shake roofing materials and Castle Mountain Resort and Lowland Heights with scattered dwellings with combustible wood-shake roofing materials, putting those structures at higher threat of airborne ember ignition.
  • Siding materials consist primarily of combustible wood, vinyl, or log siding with some structures having non-combustible stucco, fibre-cement, or metal siding.
  • Combustible wooden decks and porches with open undersides are common which increases the wildfire threat.
  • Fire weather records indicate that the Castle River area has an average of 57 spread-event days (Very High-Extreme fire danger) per year and the Porcupine Hills area has an average of 20 spread-event days per year. Predominant and strongest winds are from the south and southwest in the Castle River area and from the southwest and west in the Porcupine Hills area during the spread-event days.
  • "Landowners and land managers must provide periodic inspections of fuel modification areas and complete maintenance as required. Fuel modification maintenance is required on various different time lines depending on several factors."
  • Pincher Creek Emergency Services and Alberta Wildfire Management hold a Mutual-Aid Wildfire Agreement with each other for mutual-aid wildfire response and have used it to assist each other.
  • Pincher Creek Emergency Services continues to be active in cross-training their members in wildfire, wildland/urban interface fire operations, and emergency management.
  • Pincher Creek Emergency Services should identify and train key Fire Services personnel to act as Local FireSmart Representatives and to identify and work with the appropriate Community Champions within the MD and Town of Pincher Creek to work towards Recognized FireSmart Community status.

Some of the report's recommendations for the Town of Pincher Creek:
  • The Pincher Creek Museum/Pioneer Village site has many old buildings with combustible roofing and siding materials putting it at Extreme threat to grass fire. Grass mowing and maintenance on the site is excellent and should continue. The large Black poplar trees, surrounding and within the site, produce “poplar fluff” during the spring that could accumulate enough to support surface fire in the site. This material should be removed regularly throughout the spring season.
  • Zone 1-2 vegetation management is adequate for most private lots within the Town however some that back on to reserve and/or private lands with unmaintained native grass fuels do not have sufficient clearance. The Town of Pincher Creek should focus public education efforts on those priority private lot owners identified on Map 4F to ensure that native grass fuels adjacent to dwellings, outbuildings, and fences are maintained regularly.
  • Cured-grass fuels private and municipal lands adjacent to structures present grass fire threat to wooden fences, outbuildings, and some residences. The Town and private landowners should maintain grass fuels (mow/brush saw) for a minimum of 10 metres behind back lot lines of adjacent properties with structures and improvements.
  • The Town of Pincher Creek has significant municipal and environmental reserve lands along Pincher Creek and spread throughout the Town, some of which present grass fire threat to properties backing onto these reserves. Many of these MR/ER lands have walking trails however most do not provide adequate width or grade for fire department apparatus or the trail entrances are blocked with large boulders and some do not provide adquate width or grade for grass mowing equipment to manage hazardous grass fuels properly. Future development areas should consider fire department access to MR and ER lands at the planning stage to ensure that all hazardous municipal and environmental reserve lands provide adequate room at crest of slope for grass mowing equipment to manage grass fuels immediately behind developed lots and for fire department apparatus to safety travel and suppress grass fire when required.
  • The southwestern portion of Pincher Creek has been zoned an environmental preservation area for the purpose of avoiding development on hazardous land and maintaining specific areas in their natural state. This area could be developed in the future as a passive park area. Town representatives have identified the southwest portion as an area of wildfire concern thus the concept of avoiding development in this area is valid.

Fast facts about fire in Alberta (from
  • On average there are 5,800 fires reported to the Alberta Fire Commissioner each year.
  • These fires result in an average of 33 deaths, 312 injuries and $300 million in direct property loss.
  • Homes account for 28 % of all fires.
  • Homes account for 63 % of all fire deaths and 60 % of all fire injuries.
  • Most home fires start in the kitchen due to unattended cooking.
  • Careless smoking is the number one cause of home fire deaths.
  • Unattended cooking is the number one cause of home fire injuries.
  • Seniors have the highest risk of dying in a home fire Alberta
  • Smoke inhalation is the number one cause of death in home fires.
  • Most fire deaths occur in people who are asleep at the time of fire.
  • One in every five fires in Alberta in deliberately set.
  • Taking Action When the Alarm Sounds:

It sits there quietly or, occasionally, it might send out a chirping noise. Unfortunately, too many Albertans ignore it or see it as a nuisance. But your fire alarm is a critical part of keeping you and your family safe. And when the smoke alarm goes off, it is your signal to get out of your home quickly. Smoke alarms are designed to detect smoke very early. This gives you and your family precious seconds needed to escape from homes or buildings before the fire and smoke spread.

The sound of a smoke alarm alerts everyone that smoke or fire is nearby. Make sure that everyone in your home knows what to do when the alarm sounds and there is smoke or fire.

Get out quickly if there is a fire, because fire moves extremely fast.

Teach children to never hide from smoke and fire in closets or under beds. It is not possible to hide from fire, but it is possible to escape. Young children, the elderly or disabled should alert parents of caregivers for help in escaping safely.

Know two ways out of all rooms. If heat or smoke blocks the usual fire exit (door), then use the second way out (another door or window).Test doors before opening them.

  • Feel the door and look for smoke coming in around the edges.
  • If the door is not hot and there is no smoke coming in, open it slowly, but be prepared to slam it shut if heat or smoke rush in.
  • If the door is hot, use your other exit.
If you must escape through smoke, get low and go under the smoke to the nearest exit. Smoke will rise to the ceiling, leaving cooler, cleaner air close to the floor.

If you live in an apartment building and the smoke alarm goes off, only use the stairs. NEVER use an elevator.

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