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

“We have to make a call out to address this now so our people don’t have to feel fearful,” said Tribal Chief Mina Holmes. (Carrier Sekani Tribal Council Facebook photo)
Carrier Sekani Tribal Council seeks Indigenous-led task force in northern B.C. hospitals

Request made in an open letter to federal minister Carolyn Bennett

NDP headquarters on election night, Oct. 24, 2020. (Katya Slepian/Black Press Media)
ELECTION 2020: Live blog from B.C. party headquarters

BC NDP projected to win majority government – but celebrations will look different this election

B.C. Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau outlines her party's climate action platform at Nanaimo's Vancouver Island Conference Centre earlier this month. (News Bulletin file photo)
Green leader Furstenau declared victor in her home riding on Vancouver Island

Cowichan Valley voters elect freshly minted party leader for her second term

John Horgan has been re-elected the MLA for Langford-Juan de Fuca. (File-Black Press)
Horgan trounces challengers to be re-elected in his Vancouver Island riding

MLA has represented constituency of Langford-Juan de Fuca and its predecessors since 2005

Screen shot of a cabin somewhere in the Bulkley Valley from rare 1955 film footage of the area.
VIDEO: More rare film footage of the Bulkley Valley in 1955

Can you help identify the locations and/or people in these videos

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry arrives for briefing on the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, Oct. 26, 2020 (B.C. government)
B.C. records 217 more COVID-19 cases, mask use urged

Infection spike continues, 21 senior facilities affected

Los Angeles Dodgers celebrate after defeating the Tampa Bay Rays 3-1 to win the baseball World Series in Game 6 Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
L.A. Dodgers beat Rays 3-1 to win 1st World Series title since 1988

National League champs claim crown in six games

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Seven-year-old Aaliyah Rosa was found dead in an apartment in Langley in July. (Langley Advance Times files)
Child’s body cold, no pulse: Off-duty cop testifies in Langley mother’s murder trial

The seven-year-old girl’s mother faces a first-degree murder charge

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Tyrell Giroux was arrested by Williams Lake RCMP on Sunday, Oct. 25. (Facebook video screenshot)
Tsilhqot’in leaders call for suspension of officers seen in controversial Williams Lake arrest

Disturbing video demands an immediate, independent investigation, says TNG

People march during a climate strike in Montreal, Friday, Sept. 27, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Judge rejects 15 youths’ climate change lawsuit against Canadian government

Justice Michael Manson has granted the government’s motion to strike the plaintiffs’ claim

A woman walks through check in at WestJet at Pearson International airport during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Strong support for pre-flight COVID testing ahead of upcoming WestJet trial: YVR

Airport is partnering with UBC, which is helping choose the method of pre-flight testing

Alex Cuba took the stage this summer at a scaled back Canada Celebration. (Marisca Bakker photo)
Alex Cuba, up for two Latin Grammy awards, will perform on show November 19

Alex Cuba, up for two Latin Grammy awards, will play on show November 19

Most Read