Denis Thomson didn’t know it when he got started, but his Anarchist Mountain home was already almost a FireSmart property when he joined the program in 2013.
Now, six years later, his FireSmart training allows him to help others in the mountain community east of Osoyoos protect their homes from wildfire.
“I don’t know if it was good luck or what, but how my house is built is FireSmart,” he says, standing in front of a structure that makes generous use of fire-retardant materials — stuccoed walls, roofing shingles and a Duradek deck — that is surrounded by gravel and wooded features immaculately cleaned and organized.
With two grassfires already under its collective belt this season, the Anarchist community is already on high-alert for the upcoming wildfire season and the took a weekend opportunity to embrace the FireSmart programming.
Anarchist is one of 65 FireSmart recognized communities in B.C. — and more than 100 communities currently involved in a FireSmart program.
Anarchist, which covers 4,800 hectares of forested land east of Osoyoos, has been a FireSmart community since 2014.
Mr. Thomson has been with the program since its inception.
“Someone brought up the idea of starting a FireSmart organization and I’d never heard of it before,” he recalled. “But I put my hand up for selfish reasons — because I’ve got a home and I want to protect it.
“The house was my 60th birthday present.”
Like its name suggests, FireSmart is focused on protecting communities from wildfires, helping with evacuation preparedness and notification planning.
Every year, dedicated FireSmart volunteers talk to residents about FireSmart principles and implement measures to reduce the number of potential ignition sources.
Other activities include home assessments, vegetation management, and the controlled burning of residential debris under the guidance of the Anarchist Mountain Fire Department.
Its 34 members gathered over the weekend to brush up on wildfire-fighting skills.
“It’s our wildfire training weekend,” explained Chief Urs Grob. “We try to do it in a weekend, so we’re ready. We’ve already had two grassfires, so this year we’re starting early.
“It’s not high danger right now — the fire spread is slow — but we still had to act and put them out.”
Members rotated through three stations, working with pumps and hose lines and making sure their protective gear was up to snuff.
Snow fall on the mountain last winter is considered below normal — about 70 percent of what fell last year — and as Chief Grob puts it, “a lot of the water went right into the ground.”
Springs winds aren’t helping. The two grassfires the department extinguished were controlled burns that got away as a breeze increased.
“With the wind, everything dries out,” said the Chief.
Speaking with neighbours, firefighters and others, you get the sense there is a ripple of unsettled expectation among the Anarchist population.
But after a weekend of planning, clean-up and reconnecting with what potentially lies ahead, the community is abut as ready as it can be.
“FireSmarting is a journey,” said Mr. Thomson. “You can’t be there in one or two years. It’s every year — it’s like doing yard work.”
“Protecting Anarchist Mountain from wildfire is a community effort.”