With rain pouring down in Barriere overnight, many of us were surprised to learn Monday morning that 1,500 people from the town of Peachland had been evacuated because of a wildfire.
The fire in the Okanagan should serve as a reminder to residents of the North Thompson Valley that we need to be self-reliant when it comes to protecting ourselves from interface fires.
That was a lesson that was painfully obvious during the wildfires of 2003.
Then, when the McLure Fire pretty well destroyed the community of Louis Creek and came close to taking out the town of Barriere, the situation was the number one priority with the provincial news media and B.C.’s Wildfire Management Branch.
A few days later, however, when wildfire started destroying homes in Kelowna, attention shifted. The priority became saving hundreds of homes in the Okanagan versus dozens in the North Thompson.
Except for a few weeks in August, the summer of 2012 was generally cool and wet in the North Thompson.
That should not blind us to the fact that next year could be as hot and as dry as 2003 – if not worse.
Some have assured us that local, private firefighting contractors provide an adequate backup to protect our local communities. That assurance ignores the fact that, in an extreme wildfire year, those local crews and equipment likely would be committed elsewhere.
What we need is a volunteer wildfire service similar to what they have in Australia. This would act as a local reserve for when the regular Ministry and private contractor crews are in danger of being overwhelmed.
Although the story still has not been fully told, it is safe to say that the town of Barriere is still here today largely because of the efforts of the Barriere Volunteer Fire Department plus a handful of local residents who did not want to see their community and their jobs go up in smoke.
It would be foolish to assume that such efforts will not be needed again to save some other Valley community in the future.
We need to start planning for such a contingency now.