Scott Jeffery of Nelson Fire and Rescue and firefighter Gerry Schmidtke standing amongst downed woody debris and ladder fuels only a few hundred metres above Mountain Lakes Seniors Community in Nelson. This untreated forest is representative of the publicly owned lands that City of Nelson has been targeting for clean up. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

Scott Jeffery of Nelson Fire and Rescue and firefighter Gerry Schmidtke standing amongst downed woody debris and ladder fuels only a few hundred metres above Mountain Lakes Seniors Community in Nelson. This untreated forest is representative of the publicly owned lands that City of Nelson has been targeting for clean up. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

Nelson fire department cleans up urban wildfire fuel on city property

Work will be done near Mountain Lakes, at the Mountain Station water intake, and in Art Gibbon Park

During the past year the City of Nelson has removed wildfire fuels on city property at 21 small sites – a total of 16 hectares.

“These are city-owned lots or road right-of-ways that had been left in their natural state and untreated, with an accumulation of downed woody debris and young conifers,” says the Nelson fire department’s Scott Jeffery. “We identified these areas from past complaints, or from our own visual inspections of them, and put them on the treatment list.”

Recent work by contractors has occurred on three sites within the municipal boundaries.

The first is a clean-up of 1.8 hectares of city-owned forest land just above Mountain Lakes Seniors Community, below the rail trail. Most of this stretch of forest land was cleaned up by hand in 2013. The steep nature of the terrain requires labour intensive hand treatment.

Hand treatment of wildfire fuels means retaining large dominant trees while thinning from below by removing small trees, pruning the retained trees on the lower levels, and removing wood debris from the ground. The result is a forest of large trees with no underbrush, small trees, or debris, and with an opened-up canopy that prevents tree-to-tree fire spread.

Hand-treating forests in this way costs up to $10,000 per hectare. Funding comes from the province.

The second project for this year is a collaboration with BC Parks to hand-clear wildfire fuels from a 20-hectare area around the waterline that feeds the reservoir at Mountain Station, which collects Nelson’s drinking water. That work, managed by BC Parks, starts this week.

A fire in the park could threaten the water source and the pipes that transport water to the reservoir.

The third initiative is a small area below the skate park in Art Gibbon Park in Rosemont. The rest of the park was hand-treated in 2012.

Scott Jeffery of Nelson Fire and Rescue and firefighter Gerry Schmidtke standing among potential wildfire fuels above Mountain Lakes Seniors Community in Nelson. This flammable material will be removed this fall. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

Scott Jeffery of Nelson Fire and Rescue and firefighter Gerry Schmidtke standing among potential wildfire fuels above Mountain Lakes Seniors Community in Nelson. This flammable material will be removed this fall. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

Re-growth, blowdown, and climate change

Jeffery says managing wildfire fuels in this way is not the end of the story. The forest re-grows, and large trees blow down. He says there is a 10-to-15 year cycle in which fuel treatment has to be repeated.

That cycle may accelerate, he says, because of climate change, which increases the frequency of windstorms and dries out the soil.

Standing in the area above Mountain Lakes that was treated in 2013, he says, “You can see there’s probably half a dozen large old trees here (lying on the ground) that have been affected by our changing climate. We’ve seen an increase in those types of storms in recent years.”

Nelson firefighters Gerry Schmidtke and Scott Jeffery in a fuel treated forest above Mountain Lakes Seniors Community. Originally treated in 2013, there is now a healthy mix of deciduous and conifers that are well established. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

Nelson firefighters Gerry Schmidtke and Scott Jeffery in a fuel treated forest above Mountain Lakes Seniors Community. Originally treated in 2013, there is now a healthy mix of deciduous and conifers that are well established. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

Fire smart

Jeffery says this work is only part of the picture when it comes to protecting Nelson homes from wildfire.

“By far the greatest effect that people can have on their own safety is focusing close to their homes,” says Jeffery. “And typically within 1.5 meters of their homes is where their efforts are best spent.”

For the past few years the fire department has been doing free FireSmart assessments for Nelson residents – walking their property with them and making recommendations on how to reduce the risk of damage from a wildfire or embers from one.

Jeffery says his department had done between 80 and 100 assessments per year until recently, but the pandemic has cut those numbers in half. He assures homeowners that the assessments are done outside with physical distancing.

To book a free assessment, phone 250-352-3103.

Related:

FireSmart assessment an eye-opener for Nelson homeowner

Firesmart program has homeowners ‘thinking like an ember’

BC Parks creates shaded fuel breaks in forests next to Nelson



bill.metcalfe@nelsonstar.com

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