Representatives from the CastleRock Community Association and its FireSmart Committee approached Invermere council during its most recent meeting, asking for help to make the subdivision better protected from the threat of wildfires.
Association president Ray Schoepfer and committee co-chair Kahtleen O’Neill sent a letter and then attended the Tuesday,March 14th council meeting, telling council members, “We’re asking council to put some money specifically to deal with fire protection and prevention”, and also asking the district to partner with the association and committee on a number of firesmart measures.
In the letter, Schoepfer wrote: “although some of the green spaces in CastleRock are vulnerable for wildfire, the (CastleRockCommunity Association) board has a greater concern for continued interface work around the perimeters of the development,” and later adding that if the district will not consider a specific budget allotment for wildfire mitigation that“the board requests an explanation as to why wildfire protection is not considered a priority for the District of Invermere,given the recent history of catastrophic interface fires in B.C. and Alberta.”
“I find it troubling as a resident that there is no line item (in the district budget) for interface work,” O’Neill said at the meeting, added that interface work has been done around CastleRock in the past, but that “some of the grasses are getting high again.”
She also outlined concern about the bark mulch that lines the main boulevard through CastleRock.
“We’ve now learned it’s one of the worst things you can have, so we’re looking down the road to replace that,” she said,adding that during conversations she’s had with Invermere deputy fire chief Jason Roe, she was told by Roe that “if the fire department were coming up the main road into CastleRock, saw smoke everywhere and realized it was the bark mulch burning, they wouldn’t be able to come any farther up because of the danger it would pose to them.”
O’Neill said the committee hopes to replace the bark mulch with rock and gravel.
Council members indicated a general willingness to working with the association and CastleRock FireSmart committee.Councillor Greg Anderson asked if the committee had pursued funding for wildfire interface work from the Union of BritishColumbia Municipalities (UBCM) or the Columbia Basin Trust (CBT).
Invermere chief administrative officer Chris Prosser pointed out that the UBCM wildfire interface funding can only be used for initial prescription work, not maintenance; can only be used on Crown land; that much of the land around CastleRock is privately owned; and that the Crown land and that does border the community has already had initial prescription interface work done.
Several council members took exception to the perceived perception that Invermere isn’t doing enough to address wildfire prevention because it does not have a line item for it in the district budget.
Invermere mayor Gerry Taft said ongoing wildfire prevention maintenance work usually gets done within the general public works budget at times when public works staff is, for instance, out fixing up trails. He added that in terms of initial prescription work Invermere has tapped the UBCM funding to get wildfire prevention interface work done almost everywhere it possibly can.
“Every piece of Crown Land and high risk publicly owned land within our boundaries and within two kilometres of our boundaries has been done,” confirmed Prosser.
Anderson, who as former forestry professional is quite familiar with wildfire prevention work, added that “we have done more here in Invermere (for wildfire mitigation) that just about any other municipality in B.C. — honestly.”
Council members asked if the committee has approached bordering Grizzly Ridge about co-operation on interface work and O’Neill responded that although they had had contact, there have not yet been any detailed discussions.
“There is still a serious issue with deadfall (from previous interface work bordering CastleRock). It was never taken away. It’s sitting in piles behind our homes. There is one about 300 metres behind my house,” said Schoepfer.
Taft related that when that initial interface work had been done, some CastleRock residents had actually been opposed to it,since it involved thinning of trees.
“I would imagine though that now that we have a better understanding of the threat of wildfires, the mood has changed,” he said.
Council members seemed in agreement that such piles should be removed.