Although the next wildfire season is still months away, the District of Houston is already taking steps to ensure the municipality is best prepared.
Council has recently authorized district staff to move ahead with applications for $1.1 million in funding for fuel mitigation and treatment in the area between Buck Flats Road and the Morice River.
With the assistance of Pro-Tech Forest Resources, district staff have prepared an application for the Forest Enhancement Society’s wildfire risk reduction/mitigation program, which would see $1 million in treatment to be done over a one-km-wide area in Houston. A decision on this application is expected to be made in early 2019.
A second application has been submitted to the Union of B.C. Municipalities’ community resilience investment fund, which would fund a FireSmart program for residents in Houston’s rural service area. Estimated to cost $100,000, this project would support an education and awareness program, along with support for aiding the community to adopt FireSmart practices.
If the grant applications are forthcoming, the projects will be led by Jim Daigneault, the district’s fire chief/bylaw enforcement officer. However, these projects will not proceed without program funding, according to the district.
Fuel mitigation and treatment of high risk areas are outlined in Houston’s Community Wildfire Protection Plan, which was adopted by council in April 2018.
According to the plan, the Houston area could see an increase in the high/extreme fire danger days in the coming years due to climate change, which is creating drier forest conditions, a shift in vegetation and changes in weather patterns.
According to data collected from 1980 to 2017 at Dungate, Houston’s closest weather station, the Houston area has seen an average of 37 days of “high” fire danger rating per year, and about 10 days of “extreme” rating. Although 10 days may not seem concerning, the report notes that extreme fire behaviour can also be present when the rating is “high.”
Some Houston area residences would be at higher risk due to their location adjacent to surrounding forest. These include the areas near Lund Road, Dungate Estates, Buck Flats Road, Cantor and North Road.
To date, there have been no large fires recorded in the District of Houston that have threatened the community. Although there is evidence that some large fires occurred before 1982, it is unknown what impact these fires had on the community at the time and if they caused any evacuations.