Terrace Mountain fire area lacked protection plan

Central Okanagan's regional district didn't have a community wildfire protection plan in place for the site of the Terrace Mountain fire, Public Eye has exclusively learned. But a district spokesperson has said that didn't impact the region's response to the blaze, which forced the evacuation of thousands from their homes.

The regional district quietly announced it was looking for a contractor to develop that plan on July 9 - nine days before the fire.

Its purpose: to assess the wildfire threats outside the district's incorporated areas - such as Kelowna, West Kelowna and Peachland - and recommend measures to mitigate those hazards.

In an interview, district communications coordinator Bruce Smith confirmed Terrace Mountain is within the unincorporated areas encompassed by that plan.

At publication time, he wasn't able to say why the district didn't start preparing such a plan prior to now.

"It's maybe a question of timing, staffing, ability, funding, working on our priorities which was getting plans for the fire protection districts - I'd have to go double-check and see," Mr. Smith said.

Nevertheless, he added, "I don't think the lack of a wildfire protection plan had any impact in our ability to respond from a regional emergency program point of view".

But did it impact the severity of the fire, which the provincial government has said was human-caused?

Mr. Smith didn't have an answer, referring those questions to the ministry of forests and range.

For it's part, the ministry wasn't able to respond by deadline.

But Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives resource researcher Ben Parfitt said if a plan had been prepared and acted on, it could have reduced the severity of the fire.

"If you have a program that has been successfully implemented, where you've cleared out the brush, where you've cleared out a large number of trees, the evidence strongly suggests that you reduce the risk of fire," said Mr. Parfitt.

The regional district voted to apply for a grant to fund $15,000 of the plan's $49,995.75 cost on October 27, 2008.

The Union of British Columbia Municipalities notified the district it had approved the grant on July 3.

The contract to develop the plan has since been awarded to B.A. Blackwell and Associates Ltd., which will deliver a final copy to the district in December.

To date, five of the regional district's six communities have prepared community wildfire protection plans.

The following is a copy of the relevant portions of the bid document for the district's protection plan.

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REQUEST FOR PROPOSAL
REGIONAL COMMUNITY WILDFIRE PROTECTION PLAN
RFP # 006-Pa-2009
KEY PROPONENT INFORMATION
DATE OF RFP ISSUE: July 9, 2009
CLOSING DATE FOR RESPONSE: July 20, 2009 at 3:00 p.m.

Contract Name: Regional Community Wildfire Protection Plan
Contracting Agency: Regional District of Central Okanagan Parks Services
Contact Person: Cathy MacKenzie, RPF
Forest Health Operator
Department: Parks Services
Address: 1450 K.L.O. Road, Kelowna B.C. V1W 3Z4
Telephone: 250-469-6232
Fax: 250-868-0012
Enquiries: Please direct all proposal inquiries c/o the Regional District's General
Manager - Parks Services at the above listed address. All email enquiries should
reference the contract name in the subject line and be sent to parks@cord.bc.ca.
Please use the above RFP description on all related correspondence.

***

RFP-3 Purpose

The Regional District of Central Okanagan is requesting submission of proposals from qualified and experienced Registered Professional Foresters, registered with the ABCFP, to develop a Region-Wide Community Wildfire Protection Plan within the RDCO boundaries.

The purpose of the CWPP is to provide a seamless, all encompassing wildfire risk assessment and provide hazard mitigation recommendations for areas adjacent to communities and rural wildland urban interface areas within the Regional District.

The Regional CWPP will update the existing CWPP's for the electoral areas, taking into account new and emerging forest health issues. It will also look to WUI recreational communities to assess the risk in these areas. The recreational communities must meet the threshold of an 'assessment area' as defined by the provincial strategic fire analysis.

The Regional CWPP is meant to supplement the existing municipal plans outside of the municipal boundaries, it is not meant to replace the existing municipal plans.

The completed RDCO CWPP will be required, where possible, to contain recommendations that link the RDCO program into these existing or planned programs.

As well, all of the electoral area communities (including the recreational communities) must be evaluated for the identification of priority areas to undertake 'on the ground' fuel management treatments.

In addition the region wide CWPP is expected to identify strategic landscape level fuel management treatments. Community watersheds have been identified by the RDCO as a significant value at risk. Where possible, strategic landscape level fuel management treatment recommendations should recognize these values and identify projects that will benefit both the WUI and the watershed.

These treatment proposals should identify and take into account the current land management status/ownership (eg: licensees, BCTS, BC Parks, utility purveyors) and the ability of the RDCO to partner with these agencies to complete the suggested treatments.

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