In the wake of a fire that was ignited on Canada Day between Valleyview and Juniper Ridge, the city wants the province to increase funding to protect vulnerable locations.
Kamloops Mayor Ken Christian said the city currently receives about $250,000 for fire smart initiatives, such as prescribed burns, and he would like to see that number quadruple, to $1 million per year.
“What we’re finding is that a quarter of a million is really a drop in the bucket compared to the number of nature parks and the number of interface areas we have now, growing up through Pineview Valley and growing up through Uplands and certainly Juniper and Dufferin,” Christian told KTW. “We’re interfacing with the forest much more.”
The city’s Community Wildfire Protection Plan notes areas of Kamloops that are particularly vulnerable. It states houses on the western edge of Peterson Creek and within Rose Hill face the most serious long-term threats to wildfire. Other areas of concern include Barnhartvale, Juniper Ridge, Heffley and Pineview.
City staff met late last week with provincial representatives in the wake of the July 1 fire, which was sparked by lightning and fuelled by historic drought conditions and heat.
No homes burned and no injuries resulted, though the situation led to confusion and delays in evacuating from Juniper Ridge, with only one paved exit.
The city met with the Juniper Ridge Community Association on July 7 and then virtually with Minister of Municipal Affairs Josie Osbourne and Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development Katrine Conroy the following day.
Christian said a 10-minute drive took 45 minutes when his neighbourhood was evacuated from Juniper Ridge on the night of the fire. He said that in addition to interface fire protection funding, the city is also specifically asking the province for access through Crown land to build an extension off Qu’Appelle Boulevard.
Christian said adjudication of about one kilometre of Crown land is needed to build a through-road to Rose Hill Road. Christian said the city asked about funding. Although road-building is not something typically funded by the province, he said it may be considered as part of climate-adaptation work.
“Urban interface fire is a function of climate change and climate change is something they do fund, so whether or not there is money for that, who knows,” Christian said.
“The point being, we’re going to need a second exit out of Juniper Ridge. We always have known that and we were always going to build it, but I believe this close call we had on the first [of July] might be just the catalyst we need to build that project ahead a little faster.”
Christian said fire-preparedness funding may also be available for the Voyent Alert emergency app, which is estimated to cost $100,000 over five years. He said the city faces risks in addition to fires and needs to determine the right alert system for Kamloops. He noted social media added to anxiety during the fire.
Asked what the city could have done better on July 1, the mayor said that while the evacuation was orderly, it was also “chaotic,” due to a tactical evacuation (door-kicking) that occurred and not enough time for an evacuation alert and order. He said communication needs to improve.
“There were people saying this fire was in Juniper West,” Christian said, noting that kind of misinformation got an extra 1,000 residents unnecessarily amped up.
The mayor is advising residents to be vigilant and prepared this summer. Those who experienced trauma during the Canada Day fire may attend a final support session via Zoom on Monday, July 12, at 6 p.m.
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