The City of Nelson has approximately 10,000 residents and is located in the Southern Interior of British Columbia in the Selkirk Mountains. Located in the wildland urban interface, the city tends to experience hot, dry summers and is situated in a region that regularly experiences wildfires. When asked what prompted the municipality to take action to reduce wildfire risk in the area, Len MacCharles, Nelson’s Fire Chief. mentioned that both the local government and residents of Nelson have been aware of the fire risk faced by their community for quite some time. “There has been a real step forward at the provincial level in recent years with the Province of British Columbia supporting municipalities in their efforts to develop wildfire risk reduction strategies,” said Chief MacCharles. With the support of the province, Nelson undertook development of its first Community Wildfire Protection Plan in 2009 and then again in 2016 to better understand various risk factors and key vulnerabilities. The 2016 plan allowed the City to identify a number of priorities and develop action plans, including working closely with the Regional District of Central Kootenay and British Columbia Parks. In addition to community awareness and education campaigns, local governments can play a significant role and provide leadership in reducing wildfire risk for communities through by-laws. Indeed, several municipalities have been relying on tools, such as development permits and municipal by-laws, to control new developments in the wildland urban interface. Several local governments across Canada now include specific requirements to access development permits, which can include FireSmart recommendations related to fire resilient building materials and the type of landscaping allowed around property. This type of local regulation can be used to combine management of zoning, site planning and minor variants into a single process.
The City of Nelson, British Columbia, recognized that wildfires posed a serious threat to the wellbeing of its citizens and undertook multiple actions to improve resilience, perhaps most notably a legal requirement that new homes built near the wildland-urban interface (WUI) be constructed with fire-resilient materials. Nelson is situated along the banks of the Western arm of Kootenay Lake, and surrounded by forest on three sides, making fires in WUI a constant threat. Nelson’s first wildfire protection plan was created in 2009 and was later refined in 2016; the latest version of which introduced several recommendations in order to increase fire resilience. One such action was to recommend a bylaw stipulating that all new home construction, must make use of fire-resistant materials in the construction of homes within a certain distance from the forest’s edge. Further requirements include prohibiting the planting of new coniferous plants within 1.5 metres of a structure for every property in the city. This requirement is for the entire city since the greatest threat from wildfire are the hot embers that can travel on the wind and drop embers anywhere in the city. The fire department conducts extensive public FireSmart education and community awareness efforts to inform residents about the importance to undertake more diligent landscaping in order to reduce the presence of fuels that can transmit fires across a property. While changes to bylaws may sometimes be opposed by citizens to object to more strenuous regulations, reports from the city indicate that these changes have been well-received by the community with little negative feedback.