A thick cloud of smoke could be seen in the area of Mountain Drive around 10 am on Friday, April 1. Though the smoke was apparent, citizens were unable to hear any fire trucks driving towards the location in response. Surprisingly, the Merritt Fire Department are actually the ones behind the fire as this was a prescribed maintenance burn in accordance with their fuel management program. 

“We’ve gone through and completed all the stand modifications that’s within the prescription which reduces the amount of trees per hectare to somewhere between 300 and 350,” said Fire Chief Dave Tomkinson. “Now, what we are doing is the maintenance which will be going on for quite a long time which includes this underburning, burning up the needles and liters on the forrest floor just to reduce those hazards.” 

The operation is described as a “fuel break” where the department works to take away any potential material or debris that could catch on fire, inevitably causing a wildfire to spread. 

“One of the bigger threats rather than the fire front coming into Merritt is the ember cast that are going to land throughout the community, potentially, if there was a fire coming towards us.” 

Tomkinson also explained that the department has removed trees to “open up the canopy” which reduces the risk of a “crown fire from entering the community.” 

“There still may be fire in these areas but it won’t likely sustain a crown fire due to the thinning of the stand,” Tomkinson explained. “Instead we would expect a surface fire that is actionable.”

In the past years, BC Wildfire Service has completed much of the maintenance work here in Merritt. Parts of the maintenance included, pruning, piling, and burning to reduce fuel loading in certain areas.

This year, the department has been leading the prescribed burns with some assistance from BC Wildfire Service. The department is responsible for managing over 200 hectares of land in these operations, with 167 hectares being treated on the Bench area. Each area is a part of a 5-6 years maintenance cycle. 

“We burn on days where there are good venting, meaning that the smoke will be carried out of the community,” Tomkinson explained. “Typically it’s going to be weekdays and it will end when conditions no longer allow us to burn.”

Tomkinson says that their operations are coupled with the Fire Smart program, an initiative to educate homeowners on what they can actively do to improve the resilience of their homes against fires.

Beginning on the week of March 21, the department has been working around the area of Nicholson Avenue and NVIT. Afterwards, the crew will proceed to the other end of Mountain Drive to do some work on city owned land around the cemetery. 

Towards the end of May, goats will be introduced to manage the area between Central Park and Parker Drive. Additional spot burns will be performed if need be.