By Chadd Cawson
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
While the old saying suggests you fight fire with fire, to prevent and fight wildfires, one needs the applicable skills. Many communities throughout the Columbia Basin are at risk when wildfire season is upon us. One community that knows this all too well is the Yaq?it ?a?knuq?i `it (YQT) First Nation which neighbours Grasmere.
The community has come together for a wildfire resilience project to up their game against future flames. Columbia Basin Trust has also been instrumental in this with their support for the recent purchase of much-needed firefighting gear and equipment.
Located in grasslands at the base of forested mountains, “We are in the thick of it, so to speak,” said Nasu?kin, Heidi Gravelle, of YQT (Tobacco Plains Indian Band) First Nation in a December press release. “Summers are hot, dry, and windy. If a fire cut off the highway, “We have no way of getting out,” and fire crews couldn’t easily get in. The potential risk for devastation is huge because of our location.”
To keep wildfires and risk at bay, the YQT First Nation hired wildfire response coordinator, Brett Uphill, in the spring of 2022.
Since Uphill has come on board, one of his main objectives has been to build and strengthen the volunteer team so they have the necessary certifications. So far, 25 people have already signed up to be involved. The goal is to build a solid fire service that can defend the area from wildfires. Uphill said he is quite pleased with how things have been going. “So far we’ve done a little bit of Fire Smart burning around the community,” said Uphill in a press release in December.
Uphill referred to doing small, prescribed burns to reduce the amount of potential wildfire. Through a partnership with the BC Wildfire Service, members could potentially get experience by fighting fires outside of their immediate area as well, but of course wouldn’t stand a chance without the proper gear and equipment from proper jackets and helmets to portable wildfire tanks and hoses. Thanks to one of Columbia Basin Trust programs that aims to aid small and First Nations communities in the Columbia Basin to plan and prepare for wildfires, YQT First Nation was able to make these much-needed purchases.
The funding through the Columbia Basin Trust also entails offering training courses and essential planning such as creating evacuation plans. Chief Gravelle expressed her gratitude for the ongoing support the Columbia Basin Trust has provided to ensure the community have everything they need to build their resources before disaster strikes.
“It usually is the case that something of devastation has to happen where people start saying, `Okay, this is a need,’ said Gravelle. “To have that comfort , knowing we have the updated, proper equipment to protect people, is huge.”
Chadd Cawson is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with THE COLUMBIA VALLEY PIONEER. The LJI program is federally funded.