Study For Fire Protection Underway
The loss of three homes to fire at Mount Washington Alpine Resort last year has kick-started a serious conversation about formal fire protection. And the latest process seems to be the most hopeful yet.
Fire protection has been a contentious issue at Mount Washington over the years, with two previous attempts not passing official acceptance. Current property owners don’t pay property taxes toward any fire protection service; that means no fire department can respond to fight a structure fire unless lives are in danger.
The Comox Valley Regional District is paying for a fire protection study at the resort, which proposes creation of a smaller-scale defensive firefighting service. They were pulled into the process at the behest of mountain stakeholders, said CVRD manager of fire services, James Bast.
Various stakeholders sit on a steering committee and have been providing input on what the fire protection area should entail. “They’ve produced what I think should be the overall template for the mountain,” said Mount Washington Alpine Resort President and General Manager Peter Gibson.
That template would include signing a service agreement with a nearby fire department, building a small building on the mountain to securely store vehicles and firefighting equipment; and potential creation of a small crew of on-mountain volunteers who could set up firefighting equipment in advance of firefighters’ arrival. “The initial goal is strictly to prevent fire from spreading to other units,” Gibson said.
There is already a wildfire suppression program in place for summer months, and the Resort has some firefighting equipment already cached in various locations. There are also 45 fire hydrants around the Resort and adjacent subdivisions.
Any fire equipment or facility created under a new fire protection service would be located on a piece of property near the former General Store Mount Washington Alpine Resort donated a few years ago for that specific reason. No cost estimates have been done yet, Bast said; they are still undergoing a public consultation process.
“The process has been going very well in that the steering group has been providing local perspective, insight and so on in the development of the proposal,” he said. “We try hard that whatever we’re doing really reflects on the wishes of the people it affects.”
Any referendum would only cover people who own property at Mount Washington (and only one vote per property). “If you’re taxed, then you’re asked,” Bast said as a way to remember who is eligible. Mail-in ballots would be possible for out-of-town landowners. “This includes owners of a registered estate in fee simple or the holder of a registered lease of a minimum 99-year term,” Bast said. The referendum would have to pass “electoral assent”, which in this case would be 50% plus one vote.
(In the past, a petition did not receive electoral assent, but the conditions were a lot more stringent, Bast said. Since many properties have changed to fee simple, the referendum option is now available.)
If everything goes according to plan, it will still be too late for consideration in the CVRD’s 2016 budget, Bast said. The Regional District could hold a referendum in early 2016 and, provided the plan is accepted, a budget could be worked up for 2017. That is the earliest construction would take place; it likely won’t happen any sooner.
The Alpine Village, or Strata 799, at Mount Washington Alpine Resort, is assembling its own firefighting plans in a proactive move.
The aim of the Strata’s plan would be preventative: to wet down adjacent buildings and nearby forest to prevent multiple buildings, the forest or the whole village from going up in flames. “Due to our location, there is no way that we or anyone else can save a particular building once it catches fire,” a Strata 799 report notes. A fire audit has been worked on; phase 2 would be to create a fire safety plan, which is designed to show locations of hydrants, propane tanks, transformers, power shut-off points, entrances and exits for buildings, muster points, alarm systems and suggested firefighting strategies.
The Strata will also look at reducing the amount of fuel—small coniferous trees and shrubs—around buildings to prevent fires. Because the number of permanent residents is small, creating a volunteer fire department is not viable, according to the report. The Strata will also look at purchasing some basic fire-fighting equipment that could be used by first responders. They have approached private firefighting consultants in order to move forward with their plans, according to a plan included with Strata 799’s April Council agenda. The Cumberland Fire Department has offered to help Strata 799 with their audit and fire safety plan.
In the summer months, forestry crews from the Coastal Fire Centre would likely respond to a fire, but their role would be to make sure the forest didn’t burn down—it would not be to fight a structure fire, the report noted.
James Bast, Comox Valley Regional District’s Manager of Fire Services hopes the Strata 799 plans and those of the Mount Washington Fire Protection Service will be able to merge once the fire protection service process is finished, “so there is one service that is provided. “They have a need…that is a little more urgent, so they’re going through with their process,” Bast said. “We are trying in the development of our process to merge these two at the end.”
For more information about the Mount Washington Fire Protection service, go online to www.comoxvalleyrd.ca/mtwashingtonfireproject or e-mail Bast at firstname.lastname@example.org. Bast can be reached by telephone at 250-334-6044.