A Cultural Approach to Mitigating Wildfire 

The Lytton Lot 47 Prescribed Fire Project

Lytton is no stranger to fire. The remote village is located at the junction of the Fraser and Thompson Rivers in the high, dry mountains of BC’s interior, making it a hot spot for wildfires. 

The community has experienced numerous fire emergencies and evacuation orders over the years. Some families have evacuated up to four times in their lifetime. 

“The community is dealing with the trauma that comes with wildfire,” said Stacy Thom, nlaka’pamux/spapiumux. “I have nieces and nephews who are five and six now, when they see a cloud in the sky, they’ll stop and ask, ‘is that a cloud or is it smoke?’ You can’t close your eyes to fire here.”

As Lytton continues to recover, it is also looking at different ways to mitigate and respond to wildfire, including applying tools like prescribed fire. 

“We have so much history fighting fires,” said Roy Spinks, Implementation Manager for Lytton First Nation. “Prescribed burns are a tool that works. It’s effective. It’s timely. It’s during the shoulder season of wildfire. That’s the time that you want to focus your team’s energy and gain experience together.” 

In March 2023, the Lytton First Nation, the Lytton Fire Rescue, the First Nations’ Emergency Services Society (FNESS), the BC Wildfire Service (BCWS), and the TLKemchEEn (Lytton) FireSmart Committee implemented the Lot 47 Prescribed Fire Project.

Project Objectives

Lot 47 is located in the Botanie Valley near Lytton, known for its vulnerability to fire. The Botanie Valley is a traditional food source for the Nlaka’pamux people and local wildlife. The name itself means “covering” possibly referring to the abundant plant life covering the area. 

“The Botanie Valley is a bread basket,” said Roy Sprinks, Implementation Manager for Lytton First Nation. “We harvest so many traditional foods up there.”

The Lytton Lot 47 Prescribed Fire Project had several objectives:

1. Reducing Wildfire Risk

One of the most important reasons for mitigating wildfires is the threat they pose to communities. The combination of climate change and continually evolving landscapes has increased the potential for catastrophic wildfires. Thanks to strategic planning and science-based implementation, prescribed fire has proven to be an effective tool for keeping communities safe. 

By applying controlled, low-intensity burns during spring or fall, overgrown vegetation is safely removed and fuel breaks are created. This not only reduces the severity and impact of fires; it also makes forests healthier and more resilient.

2. Enhancing Cultural Values

Controlled fire can help maintain and enhance the health of ecosystems by naturally rejuvenating the soil and opening up space for sunlight to reach overgrown areas, which allows diverse native plant species to thrive and forests to become more resilient.

Fire also benefits numerous wildlife species and is even required for some animals to survive. Eliminating fire from forests, grasslands and other landscapes can cause ecosystem changes that affect key species, negatively impacting wildlife populations. Controlled fires can bring back wildlife food sources, maintain areas required for travel and loafing, and bring balance to food chains and species.

“This is a fire-dependent ecosystem,” said Scott Rennick, Wildfire Technician with BC Wildfire Service. “Applied fire has been used here for 10,000 years to shape the ecosystem. What we are seeing with the change of the ecosystem that has been brought by decades of fire suppression is that it has now brought in invasives and species that are not native to the area and beginning to compete quite strongly with the actual native species.” 

Applying fire to the landscape in a controlled environment will help reinvigorate the ecosystem that the local First Nation people and wildlife depend on. 

Providing Training Opportunities

Prescribed fire projects provide valuable training and continuing education for firefighters and partners. Working with live fire in a controlled environment enhances team members’ knowledge and understanding of how fire moves and reacts. The skills and experience gained during these types of projects can then be applied in emergency fire situations so that staff perform better.

Prescribed Fire: A Tool for Maintaining the Health and Safety of Forests, Communities and Wildlife

Prescribed fire is the planned and controlled application of fire to a designated land area to achieve a variety of goals. It is an essential tool for maintaining the health and safety of forests, communities, and wildlife.

Fire suppression efforts have grown significantly over the last century, which has resulted in unintended consequences. By stopping fire from naturally occurring, and also limiting the time-honoured Indigenous practice known as cultural burning, forests and other landscapes have become overgrown, exposing ecosystems and communities to greater wildfire risk.

We now know the natural occurrence and traditional application of fire by Indigenous peoples have been essential to maintaining balance in our forests. Many benefits to ecosystems can only be achieved through the use of fire.

Implementing the right fire at the right place and time becomes crucial to restoring balance to forests and preventing large, intense wildfires. Prescribed fire also plays a significant role in contributing to air quality and climate action targets by replacing infrequent, intense wildfires with well-planned, low-intensity fires.

“Putting more fire into the landscape on our terms, which is in the fall and spring as it was done in the ancient times, is the only way forward to shaping the ecosystem back to what it needs to be: a safer, effective, and much healthier place,” said Rennick. 

By reintroducing fire as a natural ecological process, the Lot 47 project aimed to promote biodiversity, reduce fuel loads, and restore the health and resilience of the ecosystem.

Cultural Significance

For millennia, Indigenous Peoples have maintained a deep understanding of fire’s role in shaping landscapes and ecosystems. By carefully managing fire through controlled burns and other techniques, Indigenous Peoples historically mitigated wildfire risks while promoting biodiversity and ecological health. This intimate knowledge of fire behaviour, fuel management, and landscape ecology has been passed down through generations, shaping sustainable land management practices that continue to resonate today.

“I would rather see fire used in a good way to be able to protect the homes and the infrastructure and the culturally important places, than to not use fire and just be left with what it does when it’s being used destructively,” said Thom. 

For the Lot 47 project, elders and community members provided invaluable insights into local ecosystems, historical fire regimes, and culturally significant areas, informing the project’s objectives and methodologies. By integrating Indigenous perspectives into wildfire management practices, the project not only honoured traditional stewardship values but also enhanced the effectiveness and sustainability of wildfire mitigation efforts.

Mitigating Wildfire Risks

The Lot 47 Prescribed Fire Project supported the mitigating of immediate wildfire risks and also contributed to long-term wildfire mitigation efforts around Lytton. By creating defensible space and strategic fuel breaks, the project reduced the likelihood of catastrophic wildfire events threatening homes, infrastructure, and cultural sites. 

“The benefits of the fuel management are that it leaves a protected area around residential areas,” Thom said. 

“This kind of controlled burning where we’re taking care of the fuel loading and achieving traditional objectives at the same time is key and crucial to us moving forward,” said Rennick. ”I think the more work we can get done like this, the more we’ll mitigate the impacts of those kinds of fires.”

Additionally, the project enhanced ecosystem resilience, allowing landscapes to recover more quickly from wildfire events and reduce the overall severity of fire impacts. Overall, the project demonstrated the effectiveness of prescribed fire as a proactive and sustainable approach to wildfire management, emphasizing the importance of collaboration, cultural sensitivity, and ecological restoration in building resilient communities.

As Spinks said, “We have to mitigate, we have to be prepared, we have to respond, and we have to recover.” 

Looking Forward

By applying the wisdom of Indigenous cultural burning practices and integrating Western fire management techniques, Lytton is on a journey toward ecological restoration and community resilience. As wildfires continue to pose a threat, projects like these show how the safe, proactive use of fire on the landscape can harmonize with nature while protecting lives and livelihoods.

As Rennick said, “The more front-end work we can do, hopefully, it can lessen the impact on communities like Lytton.” 

To learn more about cultural burning and prescribed fire, visit

More from the blog

Educating Youth About Wildfire Mitigation and Prevention Cultural Burning and Prescribed Fire 

British Columbia has a long history of wildfires. In recent years, we have experienced more frequent and severe wildfires, which will not be going away anytime soon. To adapt, we must be proactive and educate ourselves and our children about wildfire prevention and mitigation, including the benefits of tools like cultural burning and prescribed fire. […]

Read More

Walking with Fire: BC’s History of Fire Governance

There are multiple histories and perspectives of fire governance in British Columbia’s history. From Indigenous-led fire stewardship when fire was respected, to the suppression of fire led by emergency response organizations, the way fire is governed and viewed has evolved dramatically in the last century.  Historical policies of fire suppression and exclusion imposed by colonization […]

Read More