This summer, the province of B.C. has experienced devastating wildfire activity, including in our neighbouring communities. North of Whistler, two significant wildfires, the Downton Lake wildfire and the Casper Creek wildfire, have been impacting the area west of Gold Bridge and the area around Anderson Lake.
While scrolling through Facebook, we saw some interesting wildfire-related discussions in the local community forum, including a comment from Paul Kennea. Paul had written about his experience with the Downton Lake fire as his cabin at Gun Lake had been spared, which he attributes to FireSmart work he completed on the property.
We connected with Paul to see if he’d be willing to share more of his story.
This is what Paul wrote back to us:
July 13 brought a fearful spectacle: lightning that started a wildfire on Mount Penrose. As the wildfire raged on, it approached the ridge above Gun Lake, and my concerns grew. By July’s end, the blazing fire seemed ominously close. It was a wake-up call for many, including me, to take hardier precautions.
Ryan, a neighbour, and I have always taken the FireSmart program seriously. That weekend we went into the final stages of the advice. We cleared combustibles, pruned low-hanging branches up to 10-12 feet above ground level, and installed fire sprinklers on our properties.
On August 1, the fire’s rapid progression was daunting. At night, as the mountain glowed menacingly, my family and friends evacuated to Whistler.
On August 2, an evacuation order had been issued to leave by 6 p.m. At 4 p.m., it became clear that I was in danger. A friend and I ensured our water suppression system was running as I was trying to save what I could from what now felt inevitable. Around 4:20 p.m., I made the scary drive out, surrounded by a burning forest.
Once I got back to Whistler, I checked my webcam; It showed our home still standing. I couldn’t believe it. However, at 7:20 p.m., I saw the fire coming through my neighbour’s property and for 13 minutes watched it escape and burn everything in its path up to my home. My webcam went dark, and my heart sank.
About 24 hours later, a neighbour sent me a photo. I could not believe that, amidst the charred landscape, and smoke, although my neighbour’s homes to the south were gone, and my boat house was gone, our home, and Ryan’s home still stood. The reason? Teamwork and the preventive measures we took; FireSmart’s methods, combined with community collaboration, proved to be our shield.
The lesson here is clear: In the face of changing climates, we must prioritize safety over aesthetics. By working together, a community can safeguard itself against wildfires. Our homes’ survival is proof that preventive strategies work.
Paul gave us some tips that helped him, and we added in some from our FireSmart Whistler team.
Educate Yourself on FireSmart Practices:
- Learn about the FireSmart program or any local fire preparedness programs available in your area. These programs offer guidelines on how to protect homes and communities from wildfires.
Create a FireSmart property and begin with your property’s Home Ignition Zone:
- Minimize your home and property’s vulnerability to wildland fire by addressing threats within 30 metres of your home and structures.
Foster Community Ties:
- A united community is a strong defense against wildfires. Know your neighbours and foster a sense of camaraderie.
- Organize community meetings to discuss preparedness plans and share resources.
- Recognize that if each house in a community follows FireSmart practices, the chances of fire spreading through the neighborhood reduce significantly.
- Encourage neighbors and community members to adopt FireSmart principles and to collaborate on large-scale community preparedness projects.
For all the details on FireSmart programs in Whistler, visit whistler.ca/firesmart.
Thank you to Paul for sharing your story with us and the community.
Additional resources for emergency preparedness can be found at whistler.ca/prepared.