A small piece of equipment made all the difference in the fight against a massive wildfire in 2021.
Logan Lake Mayor Robin Smith credits the sprinkler innovation to saving the community of just over 2,000 people.
"It does make a difference. It does matter. It works,” says Smith.
The idea originally came from Logan Lake’s past fire chief Dan Leighton: a simple small sprinkler gets attached to a resident’s roof, which creates a mist over the home, protecting it from flying embers and wildfires.
"For us, it was the difference between being here and not being here,” says Smith.
The industrial sprinklers, which back then cost about $45 each (and have since gone up to $80), can be connected to a simple garden hose.
“I really do think we would have lost structures if we did not have that system already in place,” the mayor adds.
Logan Lake was ordered to evacuate back in August 2021 after the Tremont Creek wildfire rapidly started heading for the community.
Smith, who called it a "surreal experience," was one of the people who stayed back.
"Driving around town, and all the emergency vehicles, and they are just all driving around with lights on everywhere. It really does look like a war zone. It really does look like you’re doing what you’re doing — you’re fighting a fight,” she says.
Logan Lake, surrounded by forests and large tracts of land heavily impacted by the mountain pine beetle, was the first FireSmart community in all of Canada.
The wildfire came within just 30 feet of someone's house, Smith recalls.
"If we didn’t have FireSmart in place in Logan Lake, it would have very quickly been a different story. The fire smart sprinklers just allowed us that little tiny bit of extra time we needed.”
Last year’s fire season and close call was an eye-opening experience for Smith.
"It’s not an experience I ever want to repeat,” she tells Glacier Media.
Logan Lake is continuously working on making sure it's FireSmart, she says.
"It doesn’t end. There isn’t an expiry date and as much as things went well for us last year, this year or next year or the year after may be very different because it always depends where the fire is coming in from, and how much fuel is out there,” says Smith.
Fire Chief Doug Wilson says his team has installed about 70 sprinklers since the Tremont Creek blaze.
“We are doing about 10 to 12 a week,” he says.
In total, about 400 homes have the roof sprinklers. It’s an idea that has garnered a lot of attention, with Smith and Wilson both speaking widely on the equipment. But it doesn't seem to have taken off in other B.C. cities.
Sprinklers 'one tool' property owners can use
Glacier Media reached out to the Ministry of Public Safety to find out if any other communities have implemented the sprinklers and what is being done to protect from wildfire damage.
Minister Mike Farnworth agrees the sprinkler system did demonstrate how fire smarting can work and should become the norm.
"Other communities have been doing implementation on that [the FireSmart program]. We want to make those kinds of initiatives are expanded,” he says.
A BC Wildfire Service spokesperson later told Glacier Media the sprinklers used in Logan Lake are "one tool property owners may choose to employ as part of a broader wildfire risk reduction plan.”
When asked if other communities have deployed the sprinklers in the same way, the spokesperson pointed to a list of FireSmart communities without specifically indicating if the strategy has been repeated elsewhere.
Mayor extends invite to learn about sprinklers, FireSmart program
The BC Wildfire Service spokesperson provided some details on what has been done in the province over the last year.
The government invested $1.2 million towards planning and implementing cultural and prescribed fire projects, according to an emailed statement. That amount does not include burning on First Nations reserves or the cost for BC Wildfire Service firefighters who helped.
“The Ministry of Forests has partnered with or assisted First Nations on burn project implementation throughout B.C., including in the Fraser Canyon, the Okanagan, the Kootenays, the Cariboo and Chilcotin and the Pemberton Valley,” the email read.
In 2022, the Ministry of Forests is tracking the burning of 9,100 hectares of planned burns across 69 projects. That’s up from 33 planned burns in 2021, according to the spokesperson.
The FireSmart program, which was been highlighted as a key framework to protect a rebuilt Lytton, includes managing vegetation, building less fire-prone structures and planning the re-introduction of wildland fire to the surrounding landscape.
The spokesperson said across the province, the FireSmart Plant Program has grown from two to over 30 nurseries last June. Over that period, 200 new local FireSmart representatives have been trained, raising the provincial total to more than 600.
At the end of June, two of the first homes to be rebuilt in Lytton were announced to be built by Nexii. The B.C.-based company is developing low-cost, low-carbon, fire-resistant alternative to wood, concrete and steel construction.
“The Lytton First Nation will continue to research home build technologies like Nexii in providing safe and affordable homes for our community members,” said Lytton First Nation Chief Janet Webster.
The Logan Lake mayor says she has heard details about the rebuild in Lytton.
"It’s really really cool, I think it is amazing what they’re doing over there,” says Smith.
She's inviting any community or person who wants to learn more about the town's FireSmart plan or sprinklers, to reach out to her at any time.