A proposal by a Terrace-based log trading company to cut a firebreak around Kitimat to protect the town from the threat of wildfires has been presented to Kitimat council.
Canada Wood Fibre Corporation president Monty Bonter said the company had presented a proposal to the District of Kitimat that would see the company facilitate the cutting of a firebreak.
He said the company would carry the logging and trucking costs for a percentage of the profits of the sale of the lumber, leaving the DoK potentially with $1 million in its coffers.
“There would definitely be revenue for the District, not to mention that they would have their firebreak installed for free,” said Bonter.
He said in the presentation the company had assured the DoK that the firebreak would be cut on district land and wouldn’t affect any privately held land.
“We would work in tandem with the fire chief and the district, put the firebreaks in strategic locations where the biggest risk is and where the firebreaks are not difficult to access, while steering clear of creeks and marshes,” said Bonter.
He said he had also spoken to DoK fire chief Trent Bossence about the proposal, explaining the basics of the project to him.
“The DoK said they were going to think about it and have staff look into the proposal,” said Bonter.
He said an initial study of the district had identified a number of risks associated with wildfires, including the type of trees, their height and especially their density.
“If a fire did start in the forest it would be one of the hardest to stop, and get away from,” warned Bonter.
He said his cousin and company shareholder Lincoln Bonter, works extensively with the BC Forest Service, creating firebreaks around the province.
He said towns that have constructed firebreaks to improve their ability to fight fires include Fort McMurray in Alberta, Slave Lake, Williams Lake and 100 Mile House, all affected in previous wildfire seasons.
“These towns regularly cut firebreaks to battle fires all summer long,” said Bonter.
He said firebreaks are used to stop fires from progressing and provide firefighters access to a point where back-burning can be done to stop the fire progressing, or extinguishing it.
Bonter said logging roads are created during the cutting of the firebreaks.
“Kitimat will be able to keep these access roads, gate them or deactivate them,” added Bonter.
He said a firebreak, while not foolproof, would be the first line of defense against the types of wildfires that have burned across hundreds of thousands of acres of B.C. this wildfire season.
He listed a number of factors responsible for the severity of this year’s wildfire season, including low rainfall, high winds, numerous dry lightning storms and a buildup of forest fire fuel over recent years from trees killed by the pine beetle.
Bossence said while Bonter’s proposal was sound, there are a number of factors to consider before the DoK could entertain the proposal.
“We don’t know whether this will protect the community from wildfires. We don’t know how big the firebreak will be,” said Bossence.
He said local factors like the types of trees, the environment, the weather and wind patterns are not the same as other communities like Williams Lake and Fort McMurray.
“There isn’t one solution that fits everything – we need to be looking at what the best option is for Kitimat,” said Bossence.
“The money up front is a carrot, but what’s undetermined is the cost. Fire breaks have to be maintained. I’m not in a position to say that this is the best option.”
He added that the DoK is well aware of the dangers presented by wildfires for a community located where Kitimat is.
“Ten years ago there wasn’t a need for an urban wildfire mitigation plan, but our climate is changing. There is definitely a need for a plan, but we need to understand that it may or may not work.
He said while a mitigation plan was unlikely to stop wildfires, it would definitely slow the fires down.
“So we are not shutting the door on mitigation, we are looking at a strategic approach,” said Bossence.
He added that this included reducing the threats by reducing the fuel load and educating people in the district.
“Kitimat is fortunate in that it has a number of natural fireguards, including rivers and marshes. Our biggest asset is BC Wildfire – they will send crews to help us, like we will help them,” said Bossence.
He said the DoK will be drawing on the expertise of fire behaviorists and environmental consultants in drawing up a proper mitigation plan, which will be presented to council for a decision.