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Maple Ridge wants more details on wildfire zone

The wildfire development permit area is based on Maple Ridge’s 2007 Community Wildfire Protection Plan and sets out guidelines to reduce the risk of forest fires burning into new suburbs.  - The News/Files
The wildfire development permit area is based on Maple Ridge’s 2007 Community Wildfire Protection Plan and sets out guidelines to reduce the risk of forest fires burning into new suburbs.
— image credit: The News/Files

Maple Ridge council wants more details and costs of a wildfire protection zone and how it will affect its residents before it goes any farther with the six-year-long project.

The wildfire development permit area is based on Maple Ridge's 2007 Community Wildfire Protection Plan and sets out guidelines to reduce the risk of forest fires burning into new suburbs.

Some of those guidelines include a requirement for buffer spaces of 10 metres between yards and forests, the use of FireSmart landscaping in areas near forests and using fire-resistant cement-based siding on the side of homes that face the trees.

The buffer space can be a combination of public and private property using setbacks, utility corridors, trails or cleared areas, tailored to each lot.

Some councillors, though, worry about costs and the impact on developers.

"It really concerned me that we have such little participation from this particular sector. We have a lot of developers and contractors working in Maple Ridge," Coun. Michael Morden said Monday.

"I'm really concerned about the meaningful input on this."

With new homes now fitted with sprinkler systems, Morden said people are now adequately protected. "I don't have any concerns about the safety of our citizens."

He also wondered if such a zone was needed in fully serviced subdivisions with fire hydrants.

Fire chief Peter Grootendorst said fire hydrants are sufficient to fight one house fire, but not multiple homes ablaze.

"The existing hydrant system isn't able to supply enough water to protect that."

Grootendorst told council that the additional cost to a new home as a result of the guidelines has dropped to about $5,000. The option of installing two outdoor sprinklers combined with a fire-retardant wrap for a house facing the forest is permitted as an alternative to using cement-board siding on one side in place of vinyl. The only requirement for roofing materials is the banning untreated cedar shakes.

"If we don't do something like this, and we have a fire ... the fire department will not be able to protect those structures if we continue to build the way we are.

"We need to do something to give the fire department a fighting chance," Grootendorst said.

A builder's forum on the plan held in September drew only 10 people, while an open house in October drew 41 people. Another builder's forum was held in November, where staff said builders supported the plan.

Concerns about loss of space for homes in new subdivisions and land values were raised at the open house in October, but Grootendorst told council that land values won't be affected .

A staff report said the wildfire permit area wouldn't affect density or the amount of space available for new homes.

Councillors were also concerned about the extent of the wildfire development permit areas.

Coun. Judy Dueck said the plan was good work, but wasn't sure the project was ready, noting the wildfire permit area includes Webster's Corners and Whonnock, as well as Thornhill.

"I think we really need to look at this map."

Morden added he originally thought the concern was about fires spreading from the urban area to the forests in north Maple Ridge.

"Thornhill was never discussed, as I recall."

Grootendorst said the boundaries of the permit area that covers Thornhill were reviewed and found appropriate. He added later that B.A. Blackwell & Associates were hired to provide a scientific assessment of where the permit area should be in force.

The wildfire development permit area, if approved, would apply only to new projects in Thornhill, Blue Mountain, Silver Valley and Fern Crescent.

The fire department also has a volunteer program where neighbours can band together to clean up their existing properties to reduce fire threats in their areas.

Bruce Blackwell said later that the District of North Vancouver already has such regulations, while another dozen cities are creating their own wildfire development permit areas.

He said last September's fire that destroyed five homes in Silver Valley could have spread into the forest.

"It's not if this could occur, it's more about when and where. We've seen enough weather conditions over the last 10 years to suggest we're moving into more and more difficult conditions."

"We're not reinventing the wheel," Grootendorst said of the wildfire development permit area, adding that it follows North American standards.

Staff will report back to council.

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