While the 2019 wildfire season has yet to begin in earnest, the Resort Municipality of Whistler and Whistler Fire Rescue Service (WFRS) are taking no chances when it comes to backyard burning.
WFRS Chief John McKearney is reminding residents that backyard burning is no longer allowed at any time in Whistler, and campfires are only allowed with a permit.
"The problem right now is we've had a record dry month of March, and so even though we're not at high-to-extreme ... the real concern is the dry leaves and the light duff," McKearney said.
"And we've already experienced smaller fires both to the south and to the north of us."
The WFRS has responded to "a handful" of calls about backyard burning over the last couple of weeks, prompting a press release from the municipality.
"We can't be everywhere, and the possibility of (fire) brands coming off backyard burning and landing in an area that could get away from us is just too great a risk," McKearney said.
Residential yard waste (like branches, twigs and plants) can be dropped off for free at the Nesters Waste Depot and the Function Junction Waste Depot between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. (head to www.whistler.ca/yardwaste for more info).
At this point, WFRS members responding to backyard burning calls are providing education and making sure the fires are out—but fines aren't out of the question if the problem persists.
"We ask the whole community to come together and, where they witness a backyard burning and where they feel comfortable to do so, let their neighbour know that that is not an activity that can go on these days," McKearney said.
"And then, (if necessary), a non-emergency call to the fire department."
Free campfire permit applications can be found at www.whistler.ca/fire.
The RMOW's multi-modal evacuation plan, meanwhile—a joint effort with the District of Squamish—will make its public debut at Whistler's emergency planning committee on May 2 before coming to council on May 14.
The plan includes detailed outlines for evacuating all of Whistler's neighbourhoods—as well as all tourists—in the event of a natural disaster (such as a wildfire), based on seven different scenarios.
With Wildfire Preparedness Day set for Saturday, May 4, the RMOW is also reminding homeowners to FireSmart their properties.
First appointed in October, McKearney is entering his first wildfire season as WFRS chief.
"I'm really quite anxious abut the potential here, but I understand that the residents here, the community, is very acute to any type of smoke, and generally very, very compliant to it, and I certainly see a lot of activity with FireSmart starting to take hold," he said.
"And that's the best work that we can do right now, in any of our communities, is pull together, and move some of this fire load away from our buildings, so if we do end up with an urban-interface (wildfire) situation, that we have some time to deal with it."
The RMOW's 2019-to-2023 proposed project list includes $639,540 for wildfire protection in 2019 (plus another $591,000 from provincial grants), and $3,448,900 from 2020 to 2023.
Whistler's wildfire protection program will target three key areas in 2019: wildfire fuel reduction (on Cheakamus Lake Road, near Kadenwood, in the Rainbow interface area and around priority critical infrastructure areas), public education and support for the FireSmart program and improvements to policy and process.
FireSmart community chipper days and strata work days are also back this year, as is the adopt-a-trail campaign (which is looking for volunteer groups to help FireSmart sections of the Valley Trail).
Anyone interested in either can email FireSmart coordinator Scott Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Head to www.whistler.ca/firesmart for more.