Close some Arrow Lakes rec areas after summer fires, report urges

·4 min read

The summer wildfires of 2021 may be extinguished, but the dangers created by them will remain in the burn areas for years.

The Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development has released its post-wildfire risk analysis for both the Michaud Creek and Octopus Creek fires in the Fauquier and Edgewood areas.

It says, among other things, that the dangers of floods and avalanches in the Lower Arrow Lakes means some recreation areas should be closed to the public for up to several years to keep people safe from post-fire disasters.

Following a wildfire, the likelihood of landslides, floods and snow avalanches in the burned areas can increase, depending on the severity of the fire, the soil conditions and terrain. Disasters are often triggered by heavy rainstorms.

This fall, FLNRORD staff evaluated downslope and downstream risks to life, property and infrastructure in several fire areas. In Michaud and Octopus Creeks, they warn of potential hazards to private water systems, infrastructure and recreation sites.

Octopus Creek fire burned hot

The massive Octopus Creek fire south of Fauquier and Applegrove on the east shore of Lower Arrow Lake began on July 11, and burned tens of thousands of hectares of forest, forcing evacuations of the communities. Several dwellings along Applegrove Road were lost in the fire.

The report says the Octopus Creek wildfire resulted in large swaths of high burn severity in debris flood prone watersheds. Luckily, no private homes were found to be in the post-fire danger zones. The areas in most danger are limited to recreation sites, roads/bridges and several parcels of private land.

However, the severe fires have likely created real hazards for years to come, said the researchers, who made the assessment flying over the area this fall.

“Watershed morphometrics suggest that Octopus, Gladstone, Hutchison and Van Houten Creeks are all potentially susceptible to debris floods, whereas Taite Creek is more likely to be susceptible to clearwater flooding,” the report says. “Because of the large proportion of high burn severity in the Gladstone and Van Houten watersheds, those creeks are considered to have a high debris flood hazard.”

Recreation sites along the west shore of Arrow Lakes are located on the creek fans and are susceptible to post-fire flooding hazards – prompting a recommendation for posting warning signs about flood dangers and even shuttering the sites.

“I would also recommend closing Gladstone, Octopus Hotsprings and Van Houten Recreation Sites for at least the next three years due the high flood hazard,” said geologist Sarah Crookshanks. “The risk is higher at sites with overnight use, which should be considered when deciding on closures.”

The report also suggests FLNRORD should inspect and maintain the bridges regularly at these crossings, and domestic surface water users may want to add new water quality treatment measures.

Michaud Creek fire

The Michaud Creek fire started the day before Octopus, its neighbour fire across the Lower Arrow Lake. It grew into the Michaud Complex, and for a while prompted the evacuation of the communities of Edgewood and Needles on the west shore.

Unlike the hotter Octopus fire, Crookshanks says the fire’s severity was rated as low to moderate.

“The impacts on Renata Creek, Dog Creek and Bowman Creek will be minimal due to the low proportion of the watershed with moderate or high burn severity,” she reports. And while a larger area of the Cinnamon Creek and Michaud Creek watersheds burned, there’s no public infrastructure or private property that are at risk due to post-fire geohazard events.

Planning aided by report

Officials say the report’s important for planning and protecting the public from post-wildfire danger in the years to come.

“A key part of being prepared is knowing what hazards you are exposed to,” said Chris Johnson, Manager of Community Sustainability for the Regional District of Central Kootenay. “This local knowledge along with a household emergency plan and an emergency grab-and-go kit can significantly decrease the chances of an emergency becoming a disaster.”

Reports on two other large fires in the West Kootenay, at Trozzo Creek near Winlaw and Akokli Creek near Boswell, are expected to be released in early 2022.

The Province spent more than half a billion dollars fighting wildfires from April 1 to September 30 this year. More than 1,600 wildfires burned 868,200 hectares of forest and wildlands, prompting more than 180 evacuation orders. The Province was in a state of emergency because of the fires for nearly two months.

The reports can be found on the RDCK website.

John Boivin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice

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