Wildfire season is becoming synonymous with summer. As we celebrate my daughter’s 7th birthday, it comes with the somber realization that 50% of the summers of her life have been choked out by the smoke of raging wildfires. Escaping fire and evacuating communities is an increasing reality for British Columbians.
Saanich North and the Islands is a wonderfully diverse riding. It’s rurban. We are a collection of suburban neighbourhoods of Victoria with all the benefits of rural life in Central Saanich, North Saanich and the Southern Gulf Islands. With that comes the danger of wildfires. We must be alive to the threat on the Saanich Peninsula in areas such as Mt. Newton and Horth Hill. In neighbourhoods like Dean Park Estates and Lands End, for example, the risk of loss of life and property are real possibilities.
The hazard is even greater on the Southern Gulf Islands. Access is challenging and water is scarce. It’s not just that homes are often tucked into the forest at the end of long driveways but the only way on and off the Islands are by ferry. In addition, water resources are limited, and with the growing frequency of droughts in nearly every season, forests are stressed and tinder dry.
Be prepared. Have a plan!
Fire protection services across the riding are resourced by volunteers. Having met with the Fire Chiefs in all the communities, I am confident that they have a strong understanding of the strengths, weaknesses and threats of their situation. However, residents can help our volunteers.
Maintain your property by removing excess fuel and combustion sources. Clear vegetation away from your home and, if you live in the forest, consider installing gutter sprinklers. If you live in a neighbourhood like Dean Park, coordinate with your neighbours. Work with and support the property owners interfacing with the forest. The wellbeing of the entire neighbourhood is reliant on ensuring those properties are ready and respond quickly. It’s incredible the impact a sprinkler system can have on the behaviour of a fire.
Engage with your local fire department. Know your escape routes. Where will you go? How will you get there? Prepare to be away from home for an extended period of time. Put in place contingency plans for you and your family. Coordinate with your neighbours.
Eliminate human errors!
Many wildfires start by human carelessness. A cigarette tossed from the window of a passing vehicle can cause tremendous damage. The “No Tossed Butts” campaign is working to raise awareness of the vulnerability of our communities and has designed a reusable pocket ashtray to help address the problem. Please use them!
In recent weeks, I have met with BC Ferries and Ministry of Transportation staff to encourage them to participate in raising the awareness. I’ve requested BC Ferries use their public announcement system and notice boards to warn and remind people about the increased threat and vulnerability of the Southern Gulf Islands. They can more to actively advocate for the Islands they service by reminding people that Island life is different than the urban and suburban lifestyle with fewer amenities than some visitors have grown accustomed to. Also, I’ve asked Ministry of Transportation staff to put signage on West Saanich Road at the base of Mt. Newton to remind people to not toss their butts. I hope both take up this challenge and help be part of the solution.
Let’s keep our neighbourhoods safe and protect the forests by working together to minimize the risk of wildfires in our community.