During an exceptionally hot and dry wildfire season, the Resort Municipality of Whistler took many proactive steps, along with partners, to prevent and detect fires. The RMOW and partners also responded to three small wildfire events in the Whistler area. An update on Whistler’s wildfire protection program, including Whistler Fire Rescue Service, FireSmart and fuel thinning activities was presented to Council on September 19. Watch the presentation online [start video at 6:18].
“We have made great steps this year to implement recommendations of Whistler’s Wildfire Protection Strategy through financial investment and dedicated resources, including an active internal wildfire working group, and ongoing collaboration with resort partners, businesses, and other provincial agencies,” said Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden.
“Staff’s update on wildfire prevention activities was encouraging, but we must continue to be vigilant as a community and to do everything we can to become more FireSmart. We live in a community surrounded by forest, and our community’s livelihood is dependent on our natural environment. We know that hot, dry weather and climate change impacts, coupled with carelessness or evening lightening-started fires could be catastrophic for Whistler. It’s everyone’s responsibility now to take steps to prevent the spread of wildfires within our community or from our homes to the surrounding forests.”
B.C. wildfire overview
The 2017 wildfire season was the worst on record for British Columbia with more than 12,000 wildfires consuming 11,700 square kilometres of land across the province. Wildfire forced approximately 50,000 people to evacuate their homes and destroyed more than 300 structures. The previous record for land destroyed by B.C. wildfires was set in 1958, when 8,950 square kilometres burned.
This summer’s wildfires in B.C. resulted in the destruction of about 10 per cent of the province’s pine beetle killed wood, which is more susceptible to fire. What that means is that we can anticipate impacts, including smoke, from potential fires destroying the remaining 90 per cent of pine beetle killed wood in future years.
Fires from the B.C .Interior and Washington State led to poor air quality throughout most of the province including Whistler. There were 14 days this summer during which Whistler’s air quality health index rating was high or very high, and there were Smoky Skies Bulletins in place for 12 days in August and five days in September.
Fire danger rating
Whistler’s fire danger rating from June 24 to September 12 included 21 days with a high hazard rating and 60 days with an extreme hazard rating. During this time only 24.4 ml of precipitation was recorded.
Whistler area wildfires
Whistler experienced three wildfire events close to home including a:
- small fire on Wedge Mountain on June 25
- wildfire on Blackcomb Mountain on July 2, which required a coordinated response from multiple agencies and was contained to one-hectare;
- fire in the forested area on Highway 99 at Daisy lake as the result of a motor vehicle accident and resulted in a 2.5-hour highway closure.
Wildfire detection and prevention
Many organizations in Whistler came together to prevent and detect wildfires. Actions included:
- enhanced patrols by Whistler Fire Rescue Service, including evening patrol of 16 areas known for campfires
- enhanced patrols by Bylaw Services and their Park Rangers, including 11 tickets for smoking in Whistler (eight of which were in parks)
- aerial patrols by Whistler Blackcomb over their controlled recreation area to detect smoke or fire each evening
- surveillance for smoke and fires on all flights by Harbour Air and Blackcomb Aviation pilots
- increased patrols by the Conservation Officer Service on Crown land outside of Whistler’s boundary
Collaborative efforts were made to share key information with resident and visitors including:
- forest fire hazard rating information updated on whistler.ca daily and shared by email
- air quality advisories from the Ministry of Environment and Vancouver Coastal Health, which were posted on whistler.ca and shared with partners
- information and updates shared by Tourism Whistler about Whistler’s extreme fire hazard and air quality advisories.
Members of the public were diligent in reporting fires both to Whistler Fire Rescue Service and the BC Wildfire Service.
FireSmart program highlights
The FireSmart program made progress with several initiatives including:
- providing two community chipping days free of charge to allow homeowners to dispose of branches and yard debris from their FireSmart home activities
- including information in both the Tax Guide and Builder’s Information Package
- launching the Adopt-a-trail program to allow community groups to assist with fuel reduction along key sections of the Valley Trail
- working directly with homeowners and strata councils to plan and execute work to make their properties more FireSmart
- working with Whistler Fire Rescue Service to reduce fuel around critical infrastructure on municipal property
- presenting FireSmart information to Whistler Secondary School students
- coordinating activities and outreach for Wildfire Community Preparedness Day and the upcoming Emergency Preparedness Fair (September 30).
The municipality’s Environmental Stewardship Department continues to coordinate large scale fuel management programs (firebreaks on public lands) and fuel thinning projects. Fuel thinning will take place in the Alpine Meadows and Whistler Cemetery areas this fall, and clean-up from last year’s fuel thinning work in the Brio area took place in the spring.
The RMOW and partners are reviewing the fire season activities and outcomes and will identify opportunities for future fire seasons. Homeowners are encouraged to continue to book free FireSmart home assessments, to take action on recommendations from their assessments and to drop off yard waste at the new Nesters Waste Depot.
About Whistler’s Wildfire Protection Strategy
Whistler Council adopted the Resort Municipality of Whistler’s Wildfire Protection Strategy in January 2017. The strategy integrates the municipality’s Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) and Landscape Scale Fire Behaviour Model report into a comprehensive strategic plan, which includes 17 prioritized recommendations for planning, fuel reduction and outreach programs to move Whistler toward its wildfire risk reduction goals.
Learn more about wildfire protection and the FireSmart program at whistler.ca/firesmart.