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The Forestry Department is responsible for covering the firefighting costs of any wildfires that occur within the Municipal Forestry Reserve. The Municipality’s four fire halls act as the initial attack crews on wildfires that occur within a Fire Protection Area. North Cowichan has a Wildfire Response Agreement with the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development where the BC Wildfire Service is responsible for actioning wildfires outside of a Fire Protection Area. In these areas, the BC Wildfire Service will provide crews, equipment, and expertise as best they can with the resources available at no cost to the Municipality. There are also mutual aid agreements in place with both the BC Wildfire Service and neighbouring jurisdictions that can be called upon if required.
The Municipality has received several grants over the last few years through the Community Resiliency Investment Program (CRI) to conduct activities to help the community be more resilient to wildfire. The CRI program is a Provincial program managed by The Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) with the goal of reducing the risk and impact of wildfire to communities in BC through community funding, supports, and priority fuel management activities. The Union of BC Municipalities, First Nations’ Emergency Services Society, and the Forest Enhancement Society of BC are working with the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations & Rural Development, represented by the BC Wildfire Service, to administer the FireSmart Community Funding & Supports portion of the program for local government and First Nation applicants.
Community Wildfire Protection Plan
An application was submitted for grant funding to support updates to the previous Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) through the 2019 CRI funding program. The first CWPP was completed in 2007 and was in need of a comprehensive update and renewal. This was further supported by the increased wildfire activity during the summer 2018 wildfire season where there was a wildfire on Maple Mountain that was in close proximately to homes, the trend of warmer/drier summers, and growing concerns from the public.The CWPP update provides the framework to create communities that are designed for and prepared to defend against a wildfire event. This can be acheieved by implementing the recommendations to manage wildfire risk through fuel management, FireSmart planning, community education and wildfire response to be implemented over time. The recommendations are also ranked by priority which allows the Municipality to action on the high priority items first and take advantage of any potential grant funding to implement the recommendations contained within the CWPP.
An application was submitted for grant funding to support "chipper days" through the 2020 CRI funding program. The intent of this project was to provide an interim step towards promoting fire resiliency within the community while the CWPP is being updated.
In December 2018, a storm with high winds caused various levels of damage within North Cowichan and surrounding areas. One of the many impacts was high levels of woody debris deposited on resident’s properties, raising public concern about wildfire risk. The purpose of the grant application is to seek funding to provide an opportunity for the residents of North Cowichan to properly dispose of their woody debris. This project would offer a place to drop off their woody debris to be chipped by a professional tree service provider and disposed of properly. This mitigates the potential of the debris being burnt, reducing potential issues with smoke emissions. To promote FireSmart Principles, the grant funding application also included having a certified Local FireSmart Representative (LFR) present at the debris drop-off site, providing FireSmart information and answering questions people may have.
Grant funding was awarded in 2020 to provide an opportunity for residents to dispose of their yard waste/woody debris (“Chipper Days”) to help reduce the overall fire hazards in the community. The project was scheduled for spring 2020 but has been postponed due to COVID-19. The deadline to complete this project was extended to March 2022, the maximum permitted under the UBCM program guidelines. Conducting the project over the winter is not ideal, as it will not fully complete the intended purpose of the yard waste/woody debris disposal project. Weather conditions and changing COVID-19 Provincial Health Orders also further limit the potential of hosting this event. As such, staff have notified UBCM that North Cowichan has forfeited the grant funding but will monitor for funding opportunities to potentially host this type of event in the future.
Treatment Prescriptions and Wildfire Development Permit Area
An application was submitted for grant funding to support treatment prescriptions in the identified high fire risk areas including critical infrastructure and to develop a wildfire development permit area through the 2021 CRI funding program. The submitted activities were based on some of the high priority recommendations from the updated CWPP that focus on reducing risk within the identified areas throughout the community and updating planning resources for future community growth.
North Cowichan was successful in recieving the grant funding for the 2021 project. The grant will allow North Cowichan to hire a qualified professional to conduct detailed treatment prescriptions in high risk areas including critical infrastructure as identified in the CWPP that was updated in 2020. The grant funding also includes the development of a Wildfire Development Permit Area which will update and modernize the current guidelines making them easier to follow and administer. Periodic updates will be communicated and made available to the public at various stages throughout the projects. Presentations will be made to Council at the end of each project to summarize the results and highlight the proposed next steps based on the findings.
As of June 2021, the Request for Proposals has been completed with the work being awarded to Diamond Head Consulting. For more information on this project, a separate webpage as been created and can be found here