“We want Merritt to be a community that acts as its own fire break — that is the goal,” said Merritt Fire Rescue (MFR)’s Krista Minar as she gazed up at the dry hills surrounding Merritt.

“We don’t need to worry about managing fires, because fires are going to happen and they are a normal part of our ecology,” Minar said. “So if we can create a fire break community, then the fire will hopefully kind of blow in and around us and keep on going as it needs to.”

With each classroom visit and community workshop she leads, Minar gets closer to her goal.

They may not be old enough to clad in firefighting gear just yet, but approximately 40 Grade 6 and 7 students from Collettville Elementary joined Minar for an interactive wildfire science training session on May 30 — one of several student groups she has guided through the hills over the past two weeks.

“We have a program for the primary students, we have a program for intermediates, we have a program for high school students and then right into home owners,” she said. “And it’s important that at each level students have the opportunity to understand wildfires in a way that is meaningful to them. And it’s different between someone who is in Grade 1 or Grade 7 or 10.”

The Herald joined the Collettville students as they went through Minar’s session on Thursday.

First students learned forest fire basics in the classroom, then boots hit the ground as students explored what wildfire safety looks like in the real world.

“So we walked up the Tom Lacey trail and we talked about where fires are going to move, how fires are important to local ecology, and then at the very end we talk a little bit about things we can do around our homes to help prevent home loss in the event of a wildfire,” said Minar.

Minar said it’s important for people to understand forest fire behaviour to prepare themselves.

“If you get yourself into a position that you weren’t expecting and accidentally start a fire, if you know the things that you need to do to get yourself to a safe space, that is really important,” she said. “The last thing that we want to see is someone get hurt.”

She noted kids can help their parents with wildfire mitigation at home by watering or mowing their lawns, moving wood piles away from the house and cleaning up pine needles and pine cones.

“If we can remove fuel from around the home that is really key,” she said.

MFR’s FireSmart program is important for Merritt and unique in that the education comes right from a certified wildfire mitigation specialist such as Minar.

“It’s a little bit of a extra training, a little bit more extra knowledge that I can bring back to the community,” she said. “The other thing is all of our programming has been developed in- house. We have unique curriculum for primary, intermediate, high school right up to adult learning.”

The next opportunity for the public to learn about preparing for wildfires is at MFR’s ‘Reduce your Wildfire Risk’ workshop on June 18 at 6:30 at the civic centre.