City of Port Alberni to upgrade regional wildfire plan

City councillors hope that working with the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District to update the plan will leave the region more prepared.

The Dog Mountain fire of 2015 has spurred on action from the City of Port Alberni.

The City of Port Alberni is hoping that focusing on city specific plans within the regional district’s wildfire management plan will leave it more prepared for this summer’s fire season.

While the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District has a 2010 Community Wildfire Protection Plan and includes wild/urban interface fires in its emergency plan, Coun. Chris Alemany said that the city wasn’t itself prepared for what could happen if a fire crossed city limits.

“The city participated in that [ACRD] plan but the city itself, within city limit, my understanding is that we didn’t have a plan,” said Alemany.

The topic came up during a Port Alberni Air Quality Council—to which Alemany is the council liaison—meeting. The AQC meeting included representatives from the B.C. Wildfire Service.

“We were talking about last year’s event and this year from a smoke perspective but also from a preparation perspective,” said Alemany, adding that he felt that with the severity of last year’s Dog Mountain fire, he had concerns for 2016.

“My concern was around the wilderness parts within the city and some other issues. There’s a whole rack of recommendations that have never been followed up with the ACRD plan,” said Alemany.

“I would like to see something that’s city focused and there’s lots and lots of grant money right there right now both for planning for implementation.”

Acting city manager Tim Pley, who is also the city’s fire chief, said that there’s already a provincial system for wildfire management plans.

“The wildfire management plan process began in B.C. in 2003 after the Kelowna fires. Government funded that program and channels money through the Union of B.C. Municipalities to local governments,” explained Pley, adding that there was no need to create a new plan rather than building off the existing template.

“When we undertook the wildfire management plan [titled the Alberni Valley Community Wildfire Protection Plan] on the regional level in the Valley here we did that jointly, both the city and the regional district. We both applied for our share of funding and leveraged that with staff time from the city and the regional district and came away with our Alberni Valley Wildfire Management Plan,” he said.

Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District Community Wildfire Protection Plan

The plan does need some updating, he admitted.

“It’s a good plan but it’s a little dated and probably needs to be freshened up before we move forward.”

Once updated, the city can focus on applying for funding on specific fire mitigation initiatives.

“I would suggest that we work with the regional district to refresh our existing plan and while we’re doing that, staff put our minds to specific mitigation plans within the city and we don’t really need a separate wildfire management plan for that. As long as the regional district plan is in play we can apply for specific funding projects that occur within the city,” said Pley, adding that augmenting the existing plan allows the city to avoid duplication.

“It wouldn’t make a lot of sense for us to plan wildfire in a vacuum—we’re really exposed to the risks that come from around us.”

Coun. Jack McLeman said he wanted an evacuation plan in place for an event likely to last longer than the tsunami and earthquake just planned for via Exercise Coastal Response.

“My concern for a wildfire plan is do we have an evacuation plan made out? We did one on tsunamis but a tsunami is something that shakes and bakes and after half an hour the shaking stop sand you can look around and see what happens,” said McLeman, adding that evacuation issues in Fort Mac had him doubly concerned.

“A wildfire is something that like in Fort Mac, goes around and comes around and they had to go north and south and they only had one road. We only have one road out through Cathedral Grove and it seems like the government is more interested in not doing anything about that and they’re not giving us another way out of town.”

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