Port Mellon blaze puts fire protection in the spotlight

Public Safety

West Howe Sound regional district director Ian Winn said he has received many questions about fire protection in the area following the Dunham Road blaze.

“I think that really the harsh reality is that for a lot of people on the mainland they think, ‘They say they won’t respond but they really will,’ and maybe that was the case in the past,” Winn said.

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“But I think the reality now is that liability-wise and things like that, fire departments aren’t going to go beyond their boundaries.”

Much of Winn’s constituency is outside of fire protection boundaries on the Coast. The area is uncovered for a 10 km stretch between YMCA Road and Howe Sound Pulp and Paper, and Gambier and Keats islands are also uncovered.

Other areas without fire protection on the Coast include the Trail Islands and Thormanby Islands, Highway 101 from Birch Way north to just before Clarkson Way, and a stretch of land between the Pender Harbour Golf Course and Egmont. As well, in the Pender Harbour Area there are pockets on Menacher, Corniche, Garden Bay and Oyster Bay roads that aren’t covered.

A detailed view of all fire protection areas on the Coast is available through the Sunshine Cost Regional District (SCRD) mapping system at www.scrd.ca.

Winn said some communities, like those on the islands, are well prepared to fight their own fires.

“They know that they’re on their own. They’re not going to get a fire department over there to respond from the mainland here, so they’ve done many things to be prepared themselves,” Winn said.

Islanders have purchased their own water tank trucks and pumps with hoses that use ocean water, as well as special backpack pumps and ground clearing equipment to create fire breaks, Winn said.

“The equipment is not inexpensive and sometimes neighbours and communities can share the costs,” he noted.

Neighbours on his street, which is outside a fire protection district, have pooled their money to purchase water pumps, hoses and backpacks and sought the expertise of the Gibsons Fire Department to give them some very basic training.

The option is much less costly and less time consuming than setting up a new volunteer fire department to service the area, which is what Egmont did to address the community’s fire protection needs in 2009.

The effort to start a new volunteer fire department in Egmont took about six years and included getting voter approval for taxation of up to 90 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, securing donated land and fundraising more than $130,000 to build a new fire hall.

“Years ago there was some talk about having another fire hall in Langdale, but I think even years ago the costs got to climb so high that the reality was that, based on the population at that time, which hasn’t grown a tremendous amount, it was just cost-prohibitive,” Winn said.

He encourages Coasters living outside fire protection districts to be prepared with basic things like smoke detectors, evacuation plans and fire extinguishers and to talk with neighbours about doing more collectively.

In addition, Winn said fire insurance is available for homes outside of fire protection areas, at a higher premium, and he suggests homeowners seriously consider the option.

The Ladwigs had been told they could not purchase fire insurance by their insurer, but the Insurance Brokers Association of B.C. (IBABC) confirmed this week it is available throughout B.C. in areas “graded unprotected by the Fire Underwriters Survey.”

“Insurance brokers in every community can explain rates and coverages, suggest ways homeowners can present a better risk profile to insurers, and advocate on homeowners’ behalf to the insurance companies,” said Trudy Lancelyn, deputy executive director with IBABC.  

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