Sicamous is working towards a fire-safe summer.
At the June 14 committee of the whole meeting, Fire Chief Brett Ogino provided a fire department update and shared FireSmart funding news.
In the spring quarter, fire crews responded to nine calls in March, including the first significant grass fire after a dry, freezing winter, said Ogino. The fire spread to over 200 by 50 feet.
Ten calls came in April, with another grass fire that spanned more than 1,000 feet and lit up brush and trees, said Ogino.
May saw more grass fires and complaints about burning, with four days that contained multiple call-outs.
Crews have responded to a total of 51 calls so far this year.
After applying for a FireSmart Community Funding and Supports Program grant, the Sicamous department has received $178,000 and has hired a full-time FireSmart coordinator and a team of four FireSmart ambassadors. They started work on June 19 and will operate differently this year, going into the community and focusing on curbside pickup of yard waste and debris that homeowners and residents will be encouraged to clean up on their properties.
Ogino added the additional support of a provincial wildfire risk reduction program that operates out of Vernon and works with Salmon Arm and the Columbia Shuswap Regional District is helpful to the department’s success.
The department currently has 26 members, but four of those work outside of Sicamous and are only available when they’re in town, and three are summer students, said Ogino. His optimum number would be 30 members.
“Across the industry, volunteers or paid on-call firefighters are hard to find,” said Ogino. “Everyone is struggling.”
Ogino mentioned a crew and a fire engine went to Fort St. John to assist with a wildfire for just over a week, as rain helped the crew to return early.
Coun. Ian Baillie said he likes that the department is willing to help out in other areas affected by wildfires.
“We help out communities that are struggling because we were there a few years ago,” he said.
Concerning wildfires, Mayor Colleen Anderson asked if the district can place its own campfire and bans in effect whenever, without having to wait for the Kamloops Fire Centre to issue a ban. Ogino said yes, but cautioned BC Wildfire uses tested scientific planning to determine its actions and also makes decisions based on its resources and manpower at any given time, and said he’s found it’s best to follow what they do. He also said messaging to the public is difficult when just the district issues a ban, since anyone outside Sicamous boundaries, no matter how close, will have different rules in place.
Staff asked for time to look at district-specific bans and bylaws surrounding that, and will report back to council before any decisions are made for next fire season.
Anyone interested in working with the fire department can complete the form on the district’s website and email it to email@example.com.