|FRIAA Participant:||Gift Lake Metis Settlement|
Wildfires can have significant impacts on communities affected by them. Preparing for a wildfire is an important step that every community can take to help reduce the possibility and negative consequences of wildfires. The FRIAA FireSmart program provides funding to communities seeking to reduce the risk of wildfire and mitigate potential damage. Forests are part of many Alberta communities, and the FRIAA FireSmart program helps to protect both our communities and our forests.
In 2011, at the same time as the Slave Lake fire, the Gift Lake Metis Settlement was evacuated because of wildfire. Allan Lamouche, FireSmart Program Manager for the Gift Lake Development Corporation, remembers staying in town to help organize fire-fighting and recovery efforts.
“I stayed behind, while my family and the rest of the community went up to High Prairie to be on safer ground. The Gift Lake Development Corporation remained to support the service providers that were still here. We were left without power for ten days because over 300 kilometers of power line went down in the fire,” says Allan.
After the fires, the community decided to take action and work towards creating a stronger wildfire mitigation and preparedness plan.
We pretty much live right in the forest, and our community could easily be devastated by fire. We needed to implement better plans to help mitigate wildfire issues in and around the community,” says Allan.
Gift Lake began working with Mistik Environmental Services Ltd. to create a Wildfire Mitigation and Preparedness Plan.
As an important part of the plan, they initiated FireSmart education programs, both in schools and in the community with the help of FRIAA FireSmart funding. The multi-faceted project offered in-class programming to children in Gift Lake. The classes learned about fire risk and what they can do to reduce the risk of fire around their community and around their homes.
Another component of the education project was a community day. The day brought together service providers, community groups and community members for a barbeque and informative FireSmart displays in the community centre.
It’s important for a community to be engaged in their own fire safety, especially one out in the forest like ours. The community buy in here was excellent; over 300 people attended the event. One issue that we were able to resolve through the community day was the confusion around what we were doing with vegetation management activities – clearing, removing, thinning, pruning, etc.,” says Allan. “Community members and elders were curious and concerned that we were cutting or trimming trees – ‘why are you clearing and cutting?’ After the event, they had a better understanding of forest management, and they could better understand why we were undertaking vegetation management.”
FRIAA FireSmart funding has been integral in helping the Gift Lake community become a leader and an example in FireSmart activities. The FireSmart education project is just one of the FRIAA funded projects undertaken by the Gift Lake community. Gift Lake has also used FRIAA funding to complete vegetation management, and they intend to apply for FRIAA funding again to help with FireSmart maintenance activities throughout the community.