Skip to content

North Shuswap resident takes wildfire response reform campaign to Victoria

Jim Cooperman unconvinced by BCWS letter explaining use of planned ignition
North Shuswap resident Jim Cooperman stands outside the B.C. Legislature in Victoria where he was meeting with politicians and government agencies to push for changes around reforming B.C.’s wildfire response on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024. (Photo contributed)

A letter intended to provide clarity around use of a planned ignition for the Bush Creek East wildfire in the North Shuswap hasn’t convinced Jim Cooperman it was the right thing to do.

On the contrary, the Lee Creek resident maintains fire resulting from the ignition is what blew into his and other North Shuswap communities last August.

“Lighting that fire was the absolute worst thing to do – they created a bigger fire rather than creating a kind of solution, and their argument doesn’t hold water at all,” said Cooperman in response to the letter, written by the B.C. Wildfire Service and Ministry of Forests on behalf of the B.C. Premier’s Office.

Intended to provide more “clarity to the events that occurred at the Adams Lake Fire,” the ministry explained the Aug. 17 planned ignition, “a common fuel removal tactic in wildfire response, was implemented to reduce the intensity of an advancing wildfire… toward several communities in the North Shuswap region.”

“The purpose of this tactic was not to contain the wildfire, but reduce its intensity, providing a greater chance of survival to any structures in its projected path…,” reads the letter, which goes on to explain how within one day, the fire grew faster than what was predicted.

“An overnight run by the wildfire on Aug. 16 (8 km under less severe conditions than those forecasted for Aug. 17/18) caused further concern and factored into the decision to use a planned ignition, given the extreme likelihood the wildfire would reach communities without mitigation. The alternative was to let the fire progress naturally, with the potential to impact an area from the Adams River to Scotch Creek (approximately 12 km with several hundred homes).”

The ignition was conducted along a 10 kilometre stretch of powerlines. The ministry said this “control line alone would not have stopped the fire, as the fire’s activity was already such that it was spotting ahead of itself at further distances than the width of the control line.”

“At the time of ignition, at 3:15 pm on Aug 17, the south flank of the wildfire was already within 1.5 km of the powerlines and two spot fires had already been reported beyond the ignition line the day prior,” reads the letter.

Cooperman argues the powerline instead acted as a conduit, bringing the fire from the ignition into Lee Creek and neighbouring communities.

“It didn’t serve its purpose as a control line because it was filled with dead brush, so instead of a control line it was a fire conduit,” said Cooperman, explaining the fire wound up sweeping through Lee Creek canyon, exacerbated by strong winds. “The wind comes through there with the fire and it becomes like a blow torch…”

Cooperman said Tuesday (Feb. 13) that it was interesting he should receive the letter, in response to concerns he submitted to the Premiere’s Office in September, the same week he happened to be in Victoria, meeting with different government agencies and politicians, as well as giving a talk about what he calls the Shuswap Firestorm, and the ongoing campaign to reform the province’s wildfire response, to environmental law students at the University of Victoria.

“Yesterday, I was the Forest Practices Board office and talked to one of they key managers there about our issues and had a promise that they will look into it,” said Cooperman, explaining one of those issues, reflected in a signed petition he brought with him to Victoria, calls on the province to allow the signing up of contractors and forestry professionals “to be part of the firefighting team so fires can be put out early,” and to “allow for rural residents to help protect their properties if wildfires approach.”

“That has to do with utilizing contractors, licensees and rural landowners because right now – it’s a policy, it’s not in the Wildfire Act – so their policy is to not allow contractors to put out fires. So we’re quite interested in that facet because it certainly doesn’t make any sense,” said Cooperman. “Many of the wildfires that have destroyed communities in the last few years could have been put out by local contractors who had offered to put them out and were told no. In fact, they were told if they tried to do it they would be taken to court.”

Cooperman’s schedule for Feb. 14 included the presentation at UVIC and a meeting with BC Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau.

Cooperman also learned this week that many of the recommendations he and Rob Morrow, a professional forester who conducted his own assessment of the planned ignition, submitted to the province’s recently struck emergencies task force may soon be action items.

“So basically it’s wait and see,” said Cooperman. “The way I look at it now, with the briefing document and the recommendations we put forward, basically we’re setting the goal posts, we’re creating the gold standard for what is needed. So it will now be up to us and others to pay attention to when these recommendations are brought forward at the end of February, to see if they measure up to what we have recommended ourselves.”

On Feb. 14, the Ministry of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness announced the province is preparing for the upcoming wildfire season by upgrading and expanding B.C.s firefighting aviation and ground fleet, as well as equipment for ground crews.

“Nearly $16 million has been invested ahead of April 2024 to expand BC Wildfire Service’s on-the-ground firefighting equipment, including pumps, fire camp equipment, safety gear, and medical and hygiene equipment,” said the ministry in a media release, adding additional investments have been made, including two mass water-delivery systems that can be used for fire suppression and flood operations.

More information about the petition to reform B.C.s wildfire response can be found at

Lachlan Labere

About the Author: Lachlan Labere

Editor of the Salmon Arm Observer, Shuswap Market, and Eagle Valley News. I'm always looking for new and exciting ways to keep our readers informed and engaged.
Read more