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Students work for wildfire resilience at Langford’s Belmont Secondary

Students work for wildfire resilience at Langford’s Belmont Secondary

Laughter and chatter mixed with the noise of an excavator engine and the grinding of a wood chipper on the hillside behind Langford’s Belmont Secondary School on Monday (March 11), as people buzzed up and down throughout the cool morning, hauling tarp loads of woody debris to be ground down to mulch.

It is part of an effort to make the school grounds and nearby homes more fire-resilient by removing invasive plants and cleaning up the forest, while also getting students outside using their hands — and providing free labour.

“The overall goal is to get out the invasives because they are highly flammable,” said Tianna Dupuis, Langford Fire Rescue’s FireSmart coordinator. “Mitigate that risk of wildfire.”

And it is a chance for the students — all of whom are in outdoor education classes — to learn a bit about wildfires and invasive plants.

Also out to lend a hand for the day were representatives of Langford Fire Rescue, BC Wildfire Service and Ocean West Tree Service.

Once students clear out the unwanted weeds, the area will be replanted with native plant species.

A small excavator piled the debris on tarps, while students lined up to haul them down the hill to where two Ocean West workers piled them into a wood chipper.

Students from five classes took shifts alongside firefighters and teachers to stuff a continuous stream of Scotch broom and gorse into the chipper.

The reward was a smorgasbord of snacks and Gatorade waiting underneath a Langford Fire Rescue pop-up tent.

“No snacks until I can’t see that pile,” Belmont outdoor education teacher Dayna Christ-Rowling told students in a pre-work pep-talk. “That pile gotta’ be gone.”

It was almost raining, but spirits seemed pretty high amongst the students.

“This one kid said to me I’m really glad to be doing physical labour this morning,” Dupuis remarked.

“Awesome, right, get out there and do the work.”

Much of the area behind the school was polluted with invasive plant species when fill was dumped back there during construction of the school, which opened in 2015.

It should be a pine and cedar forest, but is instead inundated with Scotch broom, gorse and blackberry bushes.

This area did have a fire in 2019 when a cedar tree went up in flames, spreading to nearby bushes and trees. The blaze grew to be about the size of a garbage truck before Langford firefighters were able to put it out, Dupuis said.

“If it happened at a time when nobody was around, and nobody noticed it,” she said, “it could have climbed up this hill and then to those homes.”

Dupuis was pointing to a fence line only about 30 metres uphill from the site of the fire where a row of new-ish homes sit.

She hopes projects like these become examples for people of what their own properties could and should look like to be more fire-resistant.

Several more FireSmart events are planed in the coming weeks, including a community cleanup in downtown Langford’s Porcher Park organized by Dupuis and the Greater Victoria Green Team this coming Saturday (March 16).

Anyone interested in joining crews in Porcher Park can find contact information for organizers at the City of Langford’s website.

Students work for wildfire resilience at Langford’s Belmont Secondary – Goldstream News Gazette (goldstreamgazette.com)

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