ICLR releases major study on 2003 Kelowna wildfires

    The resilience of the City of Kelowna: Exploring mitigation before,
    during and after the Okanagan Mountain Park Fire

    TORONTO, Jan. 29 /CNW/ - On January 28, the Institute for Catastrophic
Loss Reduction (ICLR) released a major study evaluating the measures taken by
the City of Kelowna, British Columbia to mitigate the impacts of the September
2003 Okanagan Mountain Park Fire (OMPF) and prevent a repeat of such an event
in the future.
    According to the study, the City of Kelowna independently developed
effective communications strategies and a recovery resource management
strategy. Though these strategies cannot be considered mitigation, they
provide evidence of an autonomous and adaptable municipal government, thus
displaying characteristics of a resilient system.
    Further aspects of fire and post-fire hazard mitigation explored in this
study include:

    -   The impacts of the OMPF on various departments in the city;
    -   City staff learning from their experience with Wildland Urban
        Interface (WUI) management in other communities, and research on
        communities that had experienced similar WUI fire events;
    -   A fire guard created during the emergency that protected Kelowna
        communities from the oncoming OMPF;
    -   A significant evacuation effort;
    -   Insurance, government relief and recovery resource management;
    -   Recovery centres to assist those affected by the fire, and;
    -   A post-disaster policy window (window of opportunity) created by the

    The study also noted that various barriers and obstacles to the
implementation of mitigation strategies were identified by City of Kelowna
staff. A window of opportunity was created in Kelowna following the OMPF in
which political and public interest in mitigation was high and there was a
stronger possibility for the introduction of new mitigation measures or
improvements to existing mitigation measures. Those interviewed for the study
by author Dan Sandink, manager of resilient cities and research at ICLR,
generally estimated that the window of opportunity was two years in length.
    Various mitigation measures were developed or improved during this time,
including measures focused on reducing post-wildfire flood risk. However,
litigation brought against the city as a result of the fire, which destroyed
close to 240 homes in the city, served to reduce Kelowna's ability to
implement new mitigation strategies during the window of opportunity. Further
barriers and obstacles identified in the study included jurisdictional issues
regarding bylaws and requirements for fire-resistant building materials and
fuel management on Crown lands, the cost of some types of mitigation options
and the changing nature of WUI zones. Public perceptions of fuel management
approaches and public willingness to adopt mitigation approaches on their own
property were also identified by Kelowna officials as barriers to effective
adoption of WUI fire management practices in the city.
    Interviewees identified limited support from higher levels of government
for mitigation approaches pursued by the city as an additional obstacle to
implementing mitigation strategies. Specifically, no financial support was
provided to the city for several aspects of its post-wildfire flood risk
management work. Review of provincial and federal emergency management
policies and legislation revealed limited support for mitigation as a
component of emergency management.
    Interviewees believe that the city's experience with the OMPF, combined
with effective mitigation, response and recovery programs, would reduce the
impacts of future wildfires in Kelowna. Further, the city applied lessons
learned from other communities to Kelowna's own emergency management
approaches. The city was also able to adapt to barriers and obstacles
presented in various attempts to control WUI fire hazards and postfire
hazards. The case study explored in the paper found a municipal staff both
willing and able to implement strategies to decrease risk to residents,
property and infrastructure. Emergency management in Canada should be altered
to allow those cities that are willing and able to pursue actions to mitigate
disaster risk.

    Established in 1998 by Canada's property and casualty insurers, ICLR is
an independent, not-for-profit research institute based in Toronto and at the
University of Western Ontario in London, Canada. ICLR is a centre of
excellence for disaster loss prevention research and education. ICLR's
research staff is internationally recognized for pioneering work in a number
of fields including wind and seismic engineering, atmospheric sciences, water
resources engineering, political science, and economics. Multi-disciplined
research is a foundation for ICLR's work to build communities more resilient
to disasters.

For further information:

For further information: For a soft or hard copy of The resilience of
the City of Kelowna: Exploring mitigation before, during and after the
Okanagan Mountain Park Fire, or for interviews, contact author Dan Sandink at
dsandink@iclr.org or phone (416) 364-8677

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