News » Whistler

Emerald couple prepared for wildfire season

Fire danger still not understood by most people

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Lynn Turberfield’s family photographs are stashed in a box right beside her front door.

Next to her pictured past there’s a grab-and-go bag full of essentials that includes important documents, a change of clothes, towels, phone numbers and a flashlight.

Her partner, Walter Hasen, has a careful watch over a few pieces of art and Dolly, the family dog.

"We have an action plan to get out of here," said Turberfield, looking up at her home in Emerald Estates, which backs onto a forested wilderness of Crown land – a very dry forest wilderness.

"The more prepared I am, the faster I can assist others."

Turberfield, a volunteer with Emergency Social Services who was helping wildfire evacuees in Kelowna last summer, knows first hand how quickly a wildfire can spread.

As such, she was horrified to see weekend partiers at the house next door toss cigarette butts onto the parched ground below their hot tub in mid-June.

"I thought I saw them but I couldn’t believe that I saw them," she recalled, as she pointed to almost 10 butts on the ground just steps away from her house.

This scenario is a cause for concern for Whistler Fire Chief Bruce Hall, who said smokers must use common sense when it comes to discarding their butts.

"All you need is the right conditions and the right dryness factor and a lit cigarette will easily cause a fire," said Hall.

In fact, some of the most devastating fires last summer were attributed to cigarettes, which were not stubbed out properly.

Though the cigarette butts didn’t spark a fire in Emerald that night, they highlight Hall’s concern about the fire hazard in Whistler, where homes are nestled into the surrounding forest.

"Certainly Emerald is a major concern for us in the sense that it abuts the forest and there’s significant forest in the subdivision itself," said Hall.

"I think if you go out there, in some cases you can’t even see the houses for the trees. To be quite honest with you, that’s no different than Alpine, the upper areas of Alpine and some of the other subdivisions that we have in Whistler.

"I wouldn’t say Emerald is unique It just happens to be the first (neighbourhood to the north.)"

Turberfield and her partner bought their Emerald home one and a half years ago.

Since then there have been four house fires in the neighbourhood. There were roughly seven fires in Whistler on the whole in that same time period.

Though more than half the fires happened in one particular neighbourhood, Hall said that’s a coincidence and the statistics don’t mean that people in Emerald have a higher chance of having a fire.

But for the new Emerald homeowners, those four fires have the couple on edge.

"This beautiful place we live in is so vulnerable," said Turberfield.

"If it burns to the ground there will be no beauty for several years.

"We make our livelihood from this resort. Who’s going to come here when it’s burnt?"

Last summer members of the fire department went door to door in Emerald, speaking to the residents about ways to make their homes safer from fires.

Their advice included clearing the brush lying around the house and cutting any low hanging branches that could spread a ground fire up into the trees.

The response from that campaign, which was done before the wildfires in Interior, was virtually nil said Hall.

This month the fire department will be tackling Alpine, armed with the new FireSmart brochure.

"One of the things we’re going to analyze is to see if we get more response from the people in Alpine using a new program, than we did in Emerald using the old program," said Hall.

"The other thing that’s happened of course is that we had the fires last year.… To be quite honest I think people’s views before we had the fires last year was that forestry had the capability of stopping any fire. And I think we know now that given the right conditions, forestry can’t stop every fire."

Turberfield certainly is well aware of that after her volunteer work last summer.

She remembers people in Kelowna lining up outside the evacuation centre, watching in horror and collectively gasping, as the flames jumped from one house to the next.

Their loss was almost tangible.

"You can feel the loss that people have suffered," she said.

The firefighters are also at risk from our careless acts she added.

"They’ve asked for our help and we’ve turned a blind eye and I think that’s unconscionable," said Turberfield.

FireSmart brochures are available at the fire hall in the village.

Inside the brochure there is a rating system to assess your home.

Members of the fire department are also more than willing to help people assess their homes.

"People can fill that in or we can come out and give them an assist with that," said Hall.