Wildfire in pine beetle-attacked forest at Eutsuk Lake in northwest B.C., 2014. (B.C. Wildfire Service)

B.C. tackles wildfire prediction, new strategies to respond

Interior universities team up to gather, model data

B.C. forests have lost only 708 hectares to wildfire so far in 2020, below the modest 21,138 last summer and a tiny fraction of the record 1.4 million hectares lost in 2018.

That’s a temporary reprieve for the B.C. Wildfire Service as it works to adapt firefighting in the COVID-19 pandemic, Forests Minister Doug Donaldson says. August heat and human activity will determine the final outcome.

For the longer term, the ministry is providing $5 million to expand research capacity with a new research chair at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops to “help chart a new course in wildfire prediction and response,” Donaldson announced in Victoria July 30. The University of Northern B.C. in Prince George and UBC Okanagan in Kelowna are also involved in the research effort.

Indigenous knowledge and use of fire to shape the landscape and its wildlife will be part of the strategy, Donaldson said. That’s a recommendation by the post-2017 emergency response review conducted by former forests minister George Abbott and Chief Maureen Chapman of the Sto:lo Nation council.

The Abbott-Chapman report focused on emergency management and integrating Indigenous communities into day-by-day wildfire response, as the province grappled with widespread evacuations and the need to protect population and property while long-accumulated forest fuel was allowed to burn away.

Groundbreaking research in 2017 from the University of B.C. forestry department illustrated the effect of post-war mechanized firefighting on an ancient block of the Alex Fraser Research Forest in the Cariboo. Trees that have stood since the early 1600s show fire scarring on average every 15 years, a pattern that all but stopped after 1943.

Without the fire cycle’s removal of dead and thin-barked trees, the makeup of B.C. forests changed. “Today’s dense forests are perpetuated by the lack of fires – from land use change (including removing Aboriginal cultural fire from the land) … and fire suppression intended to protect our communities and forest resources,” wrote Dr. Lori Daniels, associate professor at the UBC forest department.

RELATED: Fires used to be much more common: UBC research

RELATED: 85% of B.C. wildfires since April were human caused

The vast majority of wildfires seen this year have been human-caused, far above the 40 to 50 per cent that B.C. sees in a fire season. The rest are lightning strikes in dry timber conditions, which can be as unpredictable as the string of dry lightning storms that added to the 2018 fires and evacuations in the B.C. Interior.

Going into the August long weekend in 2018, lightning sparked 75 new fires in a single day. That was fewer than June 20, 2018, when an estimated 19,000 lightning strikes started 115 new fires across B.C.

The record for forest fire area was set then and broken in 2018, but the 2017 season was the most costly. The ministry estimates wildfires and floods left a bill of $1.6 billion that year, with disruption to communities, ranches and tourism.


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

BC legislaturebc wildfires

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Route announced for the Great Regional Air Hug of 2020

Aircraft will be departing from the Vanderhoof Municipal Airport at 12 p.m. on Aug. 15

“Let’s break the silence because we can”

Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s awareness walk held Saturday in Fort St. James

New community library aims to foster positive community feelings

Vanderhoof resident has set up a little library in front of her property at the end of Lebler Road.

Vanderhoof politician running for president of UBCM

Brian Frenkel, municipal councillor, was the first Vice-President for the Union of BC Municipalities in 2019.

“Nature defines my art”: Bethany Giesbrecht, painter

This story is part of a weekly series showcasing artists in the region

B.C. records new COVID-19 death, 85 more cases; Horgan calls on celebrity help

This brings the total number of active confirmed cases to 531 across the province

B.C. announces multi-year plan to double treatment beds for youth with addiction

This will bring the total number of new beds specific to those 12 to 24 years old to 247 province-wide

B.C. man who nearly died from COVID-19 reflects on one-month battle

Robert Billyard was in an induced coma to ensure his body would not fight the ventilator to breathe

Wedding party bear sprayed at Okanagan campsite irks locals

Latest criminal activity at the Meadows leaves locals frustrated

Paramedics fired for allowing patient to crawl for treatment on Downtown Eastside: court documents

The man spent three days in intensive care and three months recovering in hospital from sepsis

Feds seeking private consultant to design firearm buyback program

The ban covers some 1,500 models and variants of what the government considers assault-style weapons

Face masks for teachers can impact learning on young children, experts say

Face coverings, mandatory in most indoor public places across the province, can help limit the spread of COVID-19

Horvat scores 2 as Vancouver Canucks beat Blues 5-2 in NHL playoff opener

Game 2 in best-of-seven series goes Friday night

Most Read