The B.C. government has decided to close the wildfire service RapAttack barracks in Salmon Arm, though the base itself will remain operational.
The planned closure will take place in phases, with catering at the barracks ending on Jan. 1, 2017, and housing on Jan. 1, 2018.
RapAttack crews are specially trained helicopter-mobile firefighters. The Salmon Arm barracks houses as many as 40 firefighters during wildfire season.
A Ministry of Forests Lands and Natural Resources spokesperson said the base will remain open after catering and accommodation services are phased out.
Accommodation and meal services have been provided to Salmon Arm fire crews since the late 1970s, but according to the ministry they are being eliminated because Salmon Arm is no longer considered a remote location.
Salmon Arm city council was notified of the ministry’s decision to close the barracks Thursday, Oct. 13.
Mayor Nancy Cooper said she came away from a meeting with Minster of Forests Steve Thomson at the Union of British Columbia Municipalities convention in September feeling positive about the ministry’s consideration of keeping the base open.
Now that a decision to close the barracks has been made, Cooper fears it will put further strain on Salmon Arm’s rental market.
“We have a zero-vacancy rate, basically. They just won’t be able to find rentals,” she said.
Cooper was assured from the ministry that the base will remain open. However, she thinks doing away with on-base housing could leave Salmon Arm, and the region, more vulnerable to wildfires.
“They’re leaving us feeling very vulnerable if they close that – look around, we live in a forest. Having them there and having them on site, they can respond to things very quickly,” she said
Cooper raised the possibility of charging market value for housing at the base, rather than the subsidized rate crews currently pay, therefore reducing the cost to taxpayers and the strain on Salmon Arm’s rental market.
“There’s so many unanswered questions. I’ve actually requested another meeting with the ministry and as soon as I have that information, all of council will meet with them then.”