News

Maple Ridge fire department can save only one house at a time

Fire on a construction site in Silver Valley in September destroyed four homes under construction and damaged a fifth that was occupied. - The News/Files
Fire on a construction site in Silver Valley in September destroyed four homes under construction and damaged a fifth that was occupied.
— image credit: The News/Files

Maple Ridge escaped a raging inferno last fall when five homes in Silver Valley, four of them under construction, went up in flames.

The district’s fire department was able to contain the blaze, but next time might not be so lucky because the water and fire hydrant systems installed in each neighbourhood can only supply water to fight one fire at a time, said fire chief Peter Grootendorst.

“That’s how all subdivisions are designed.”

Designing a fire hydrant system to fight fires beyond that would require huge pipes to carry that water, he explained Monday.

Fire ripped through the homes at 227th Street and 136 A Avenue in Formosa Plateau, a new neighbourhood in Silver Valley in northeast Maple Ridge, on Sept. 25.

“I don’t think we lacked of water when we were fighting the fire, but we were told we maxed out the water system.”

That’s why Maple Ridge requires sprinklers in new homes and why the fire department wants to make homes more resistant to wildfires.

The fire department recently presented its wildfire development permit area to council. The permit area sets out guidelines for future new home construction located near Maple Ridge forests.

If council adopts the permit area, new homes near forests must have fire-resistant roofs (at least treated cedar) metal soffits under roof overhangs (instead of vinyl), and no bark mulch or cedar trees next to houses, as well as buffer zones at the edges of lots.

Homes facing the forest must have two exterior sprinklers on the side of the house facing the forest as well as be wrapped in fire-resistant material before exterior siding is applied. The latter is given as a cheaper option to installing cement-based siding on the walls that face the forest.

Overall, the extra cost for each new home built near the forest should be about $5,000.

The wildfire development permit area derives from Maple Ridge’s Community Wildfire Protection Plan created in 2007. That plan came from the Firestorm 2003 report written by former Manitoba premier Gary Filmon in the wake of the devastating wildfire that tore through Kelowna that year.

Grootendorst said most house fires in that blaze started when burning embers carried aloft by the wildfire showered embers on to the homes.

The measures in the permit area are intended to give firefighters a fighting chance when a forest fire threatens.

“All these things that we’re doing is to make it less susceptible to catching fire, when you have these ember showers.”

Council, though, had some concerns about the permit area, mainly the areas in which it will be applied, so the fire department will try again to explain the bylaw in the next few weeks and get council’s approval to start the adoption process.

Coun. Judy Dueck wanted to know why the permit area applies to some areas, Thornhill in particular, but not others and said some property owners in Thornhill who want to develop in the future may not have been aware of the development guidelines and may have attended the meetings last fall on the topic.

“We’ve had e-mails about it. I don’t know that it was well attended as it should have been.”

When the wildfire development permit area was originally presented, it was focused on the north forest in the Silver Valley, Dueck added.

Why is one side of 102nd Avenue in Thornhill a danger and the other isn’t, she asked. “I can’t figure that out. So show me, and I’ll consider it.”

In the Lower Mainland, only the District of North Vancouver has completed such an wildfire development permit area. Kelowna and Langford, on Vancouver Island, have similar plans.

While the Filmon report came out in 2003, it’s taken Maple Ridge a decade to respond.

Grootendorst said the fire department has implemented other recommendations of the report, such as improving training, buying an ATV to allow firefighters to rapidly attack small bush fires, as well as a mobile sprinkler that can be set up on homes threatened by fire.

“We’re progressively working on various aspects [of the report] and this [development permit area] is one of the last ones we’ve been working on in the last couple of years, trying to get this done.

The fire department will make another presentation to council in attempt to get council to start the adoption process.

“We just think we haven’t done a good enough job explaining it to council,” Grootendorst said.

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