British Columbia

Rural B.C. Interior resident frustrated by 'ludicrous' fire-risk closure of land around his property

Kristian Gunderson says he doesn’t understand why the Crown land bordering his rural acreage just north of Heffley Creek, has been closed by the Province due to wildfire risk, when the region is more lush and moist than it’s been in years. B.C. Wildfire says it will stay closed until September due to fire risk stemming from an ongoing fire risk mitigation project in the area.

B.C. Wildfire says Crown land near Heffley Creek poses wildfire risk due to ongoing fire mitigation project

A dirt road leading through a rural part of B.C.
A resident of Evergreen Estates, north of Kamloops, B.C., is upset that the property around his home, which his family uses for hiking and dirt biking, has been closed due to fire risk despite a particularly wet spring. (Kristian Gunderson)

Kristian Gunderson says he doesn't understand why the Crown land bordering his rural acreage just north of Kamloops, B.C., has been closed by the province due to wildfire risk, despite the region being more lush and moist than it's been in years.

He described the access ban as "ludicrous."

"Well it's ridiculous, frankly, because this is the greenest summer we've ever had," he told Daybreak Kamloops guest host Doug Herbert.

"Usually by the middle of May we've got burning restrictions for campfires and burn barrels, and we don't even have that and it's the middle of June." 

His property is located in the northeast corner of the Evergreen Estates subdivision, north of Heffley Creek. He said his land borders two sides of the restricted area, which will be closed until Sept. 9.

The access ban near Gunderson's home is the only restriction in the Kamloops Fire Centre, and one of the only restrictions in the province right now.

Gunderson uses the trails, which are Crown land, behind his home for hiking, walking his dogs and riding dirt bikes and ATVs.

"We actually bought my grandparents' house and moved out here in 2015, but I've got ties to this area since I was born," he said.

"I've been on all these trails since I was a little kid."

A pathway through a forest.
Kristian Gunderson doesn't understand why the area behind his home in rural B.C., just north of Kamloops, is under an access restriction because of fire hazards. He says the area is more moist and green than it has been in June in years. (Kristian Gunderson)

He said he's been told there's an extreme fire risk in the area right now, something he thinks couldn't possibly be true with all the green grass in the area. But he suspects other people in the area have complained about the noise and dirt from dirt bikes. 

Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, he says, more and more people have been using the trails and it's become a popular spot for dirt bikers in particular. 

Senior wildfire prevention officer Jennifer Young with the B.C. Wildfire Service says the closure has nothing to do with dirt bikes, and maintains there is a significant risk of fire in the area. 

She said residents raised concerns about the status of a wildfire mitigation project, so the ministry went out to assess the area at the end of May. 

"Because this project was initiated by the provincial government through a fuel mitigation funding program, we have an obligation to take appropriate steps to address this temporarily elevated risk," she said.

A forest in winter.
Gunderson says this photo, taken this past winter, shows the work the Ministry of Forests has been doing to clear out underbrush and debris to reduce the risk of wildfire. (Kristian Gunderson)

Despite the wet spring Kamloops has experienced, the closure was put in place to limit the likelihood of a human-caused fire.

"There's a high probability of ignition in this area," she said, adding that there are piles of debris left throughout the site that could act as fuel for a fire.

Young said it only takes 16 hours for fuels to dry out.

"While it might appear quite lush around Kamloops, it does not take long for this type of fuel to get into that condition."

She said the team working on the area is "not able to abate the hazards" until the fall. 

The BC Wildfire Service says it has restricted access to some crown land north of Heffley Creek due to fire risk, but a nearby resident is upset with the move, saying the area he uses for hiking and biking is wetter than it has been in years.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Courtney Dickson is a journalist in Vancouver, B.C. Email her at courtney.dickson@cbc.ca with story tips.

With files from Daybreak Kamloops and Adam van der Zwan

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