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Wildfire-related area ban irks Heffley Creek resident

A spokesperson for the BC Wildfire Service said concerned residents reached out about the nearby wildfire risk. But Kristian Gunderson, whose property borders the now-restricted area, was not one of them
Heffley restriction Leif Gunderson
This photo shows the landscape near the restricted area as of this past Sunday. Kristian Gunderson and his son Leif, shown here, use the Crown land behind their house to walk their dogs and ride dirt bikes.

An area restriction put in place by the BC Wildfire Service has left a nearby resident feeling burned over being cut off from Crown land attached to his back yard.

The order, placed under Section 11 of the Wildfire Act, bars anyone without official approval or written authorization from about 1.5 square kilometres of land north of Heffley Creek until Sept. 9.

A spokesperson for the BC Wildfire Service said concerned residents reached out about the nearby wildfire risk. But Kristian Gunderson, whose property borders the now-restricted area, was not one of them.

“On my side of the fence, I can have a bonfire, but five or 10 feet away, on the other side of the fence, it’s too much of a hazard for me to even walk my dog,” Gunderson said.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the area restriction at Heffley Creek appears to be the only one in the province.

Gunderson said backyard campfire bans are often put in place in May or June, but, noting the wet weather, noted there were no restrictions prior the area being closed.

Jennifer Young, a senior wildfire prevention officer with the BC Wildfire Service, said the restriction is meant to keep people out of an area often used for hiking or backcountry camping.

“Any kind of human activity in this particular area, unless absolutely necessary ... Our concern is just about a fire starting,” she said.

Young said the area was the site of a wildfire risk reduction project undertaken by the provincial government and a number of slash piles were left behind as a result of thinning and pruning work.

“We’re trying to be proactive by putting this area restriction in place just given the potential for human-caused fire starts,” Young said. “As we get into the warmer months, July and August, things dry out pretty quickly. Given the state the project is currently in, the only thing we can really do is restrict human-caused fires.”

Marina Irwin, a resource manager with the Ministry of Forests, said the project’s first phase, thinning and spacing trees, has been completed, but the brush piles still need to be burned.

She said that will happen in the late fall, with the project expected to be completed by March 2023.

KTW inquired about other nearby wildfire risk reduction projects, but did not hear back before press deadline on Tuesday.

Regardless of the timeline, Gunderson said the area doesn’t seem particularly risky compared to elsewhere in the province, especially following a June filled with wet and relatively cool weather.

“If I can speak frankly, I think it’s a load of crap. They’ve been doing the same thinning operations on a bunch of other rural or residential interface-type neighbourhoods around the area and I’m pretty sure the rest of them have similar slash piles that didn’t get burned,” he said.

The area stretches about one kilometre from Gunderson’s backyard and he said he can see trails he is allowed to use beyond the restricted area, but can’t access due to the restricted area.

The Heffley Creek Gun Club is located about two kilometres east of the area restriction in a similarly forested spot.

“It’s absolutely ludicrous they’ve restricted such a tiny area, but outside the area is the same type of conditions, terrain and the same activities are still perfectly acceptable there,” Gunderson said.

Young said she understands why people might be upset the area is now barred from entry until the fall, but that it was more prudent to be proactive and prevent the possibility of human-caused fires.