In 2018, B.C. faced its second straight year of catastrophic wildfires in every region of the province including, in Cheslatta Carrier Nation territory south of Burns Lake. Larger fires closer to more populated communities in other regions received priority attention and the resources weren’t available to deal with all fires. The result was that tens of thousands of hectares of forests in their Southside community were burned, and many residents of the area were forced from their homes for several weeks during August and September.
In 2019, the Cheslatta Carrier Nation began to develop a strategy to better prepare their members and their neighbours for future wildfires. Part of the strategy involved investigating the benefits of placing initial wildfire response equipment in key locations throughout their widespread community. Next came an offer by Rio Tinto which operates the Nechako Reservoir in part of the Cheslatta territory, to help purchase wildfire fighting equipment. Rio Tinto’s contribution of $98,000 helped purchase eight community wildfire equipment trailers and one industrial trailer.
Tuesday, staff from the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (FLNRO) hosted a public demonstration on how to use the equipment effectively. The demonstration was attended by Cheslatta Council and staff and residents of the ‘Southside’ area. The event was also video-recorded and photographed and will be shared on government and Cheslatta social media platforms.
“We are grateful for Rio Tinto to have generously participated in this community project,” said Cheslatta Chief Corrina Leween. “Having wildfire response equipment in key areas within our community will provide a small level of comfort for our members and our neighbours. The memories of 2018 are still very present in our minds and the fear of wildfires will be there for many years. The demonstration today given by FLNRO staff and this equipment will help provide some comfort and confidence that should wildfires return to our territory, our members and our neighbours have the right tools to mount an effective initial response and minimize the spread until the BC Wildfire Service arrives to take over. We had no training or equipment in 2018. Today, we now have more tools and training to fight wildfires in our communities and can better protect our people, our neighbours and our lands.”