Retired Observer photographer James Murray snapped this award-winning shot of the 1998 fire on Mt. Ida. (Salmon Arm Museum Archives photo)

Shuswap residents urged to ensure their yard isn’t what spreads a wildfire

Watching out for the Douglas-fir bark beetle is recommended when fire-proofing

Will your property fan the flames should a wildfire strike Salmon Arm and area?

Those working on a Community Wildfire Protection Plan ask residents to look at their homes and yards with a critical eye, in order to lower the risk of a catastrophic wildfire. The plan identifies potential wildfire risks and describes potential consequences and remedies.

Most people remember the devastation that was the mountain pine beetle, painting a red swath of dead pine trees across the province and beyond. Another bug has begun chomping tree bark, although this one is not considered to be as big a threat as the pine beetle.

Wes Bieber is a consultant working with Silvatech; Sk’atsin Silvatech Ventures LLP is a partnership between the Neskonlith band and Silvatech completing the wildfire protection plan.

Bieber, along with Terry Smith and Kevin Smith of Silvatech, addressed city council recently to provide an update.

Read more: More planned forest fires needed: wildfire expert

Read more: What can you do to protect your property from wildfires

A forester, Bieber says the Douglas-fir bark beetle has been noticed on the perimeter of the city. It’s a beetle natural to the region’s forests whose population is generally kept low by cold winters and predators such as woodpeckers.

He says the fir beetle doesn’t grow to the population level the pine beetle did, but if it’s not curtailed, it could have a catastrophic effect. It attacks mature Douglas firs, mainly those damaged or drought-stressed.

A flyer available from the provincial government provides a guide to managing the insect.

People are also encouraged to FireSmart their properties, removing wood piles from the vicinity of homes, cleaning pine needles from gutters and many other steps.

“We have all these high-risk neighbourhoods because nobody is FireSmarting their properties,” Bieber remarked, explaining that during wildfires like Fort McMurray’s in 2016, embers from the fire fell on properties, sometimes starting a new blaze.

More information is available at

FireSmart Disciplines Overview from FireSmartBC on Vimeo.

Another part of the plan is creating neighbourhood FireSmart boards. Already 20 Community Champions, as they’re called, have been trained and certified in FireSmart practices. They’re mostly from Salmon Arm, as well as White Lake and Sicamous. They will help create neighbourhood boards and from that a FireSmart plan for each neighbourhood. The process would entail a full assessment of each property’s fire risk.

Kevin Smith told council the hope is to have two neighbourhoods certified this year.

Mayor Alan Harrison noted that Little Mountain Park is cited in the wildfire protection plan as a top priority, because fuel loads tend to build up in parks.

Terry Smith said a portion of the park near the tennis courts was cleaned up last year with help from the community, and six hectares are still in need of work.

Outlying areas listed as requiring fuel load reduction include Fly Hills and Mount Ida.

Bieber said reducing the fire risk will include cooperating with forest licensees to reduce risk and maintain access adjacent to the city, including the creation of landscape fuel breaks in strategic areas.

The community wildlife protection plan is now all but complete, except for approval from the BC Wildfire Service. It will also go off to the Community Resiliency Investment (CRI) program, which provides funding and support.

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Firefighters work to extinguish a hotspot caused by the 1998 wildfire near Salmon Arm. (James Murray/Salmon Arm Observer)

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