Forty volunteers joined a group of Nelson firefighters near Mountain Station on April 30 to clear wildfire fuel from both sides of the Rail Trail.
Volunteers spent three hours hauling dry wood that had been chainsawed into manageable pieces in advance by the fire department.
Forester John Cathro, who helped to supervise the one-day event, was struck my the enthusiasm and good humour in the group.
“We had volunteers saying, ‘Hey, where do we go next weekend?’”
“People were genuinely interested to contribute,” he said, “to learn about FireSmart, to be part of something that is being led by the fire chief, and stand shoulder to shoulder with their neighbours and contribute.”
For a stretch of the Rail Trail northwest of the Mountain Station parking lot, volunteers spread out in groups, each supervised by a member of the fire department, pulling dry branches and debris from the woods and placing them on the trail where the material would eventually be fed into a shredder.
The volunteers were treated to T-shirts, lunch and detailed safety instructions.
Wildfires spread most easily when they are fed by dry material on or near the ground. The goal was to remove such debris at the edge of the city along the trail.
“To eliminate the ability for a wildfire to travel – that was the goal for today,” said Nelson fire chief Len MacCharles, who organized the event.
The fire department plans to post educational material along the trail to educate walkers and bikers about Saturday’s work.
Cathro said dozens of dog walkers and cyclists passed the volunteers as they worked.
“I wasn’t conducting a scientific poll but at least at least one in three of the people who came by made a point of thanking the volunteers saying how good it looks,” Cathro said.
He said he hopes the cumulative impact on the passers-by, the volunteers, the people the volunteers tell about the event, and those who read the new educational signs, will all lead to people doing similar work on their own properties and volunteering for future FireSmart events.
“The goal was to create local FireSmart ambassadors,” said MacCharles. “I think we’ve really hit the mark on that one.
MacCharles, who will be retiring in a month, said he will be there as a volunteer next time, which he expects to be in the fall.
He said successful wildfire mitigation takes effort on many levels including provincial grant funding, municipal resources, and residents fire-smarting around their houses.
“And it takes these group efforts like we did on Saturday. It takes all those things to truly build your community’s wildfire resiliency. You can’t just do one or two. You need them all.”