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

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

Mona Strelaeff, a Metchosin resident, is the first non-terminally ill person in Canada to be allowed to use psilocybin assisted therapy. (Provided by Spencer Hawkswell)
Metchosin woman’s trauma treatment could be trendsetting

Experts say this could signal the broadening of who can access psilocybin therapy

Sidney’s Haunted Bookshop is changing owners with longtime owner Odean Long transferring ownership Dec. 1 to William Matthews. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Longtime owner of Sidney’s Haunted Bookshop closes chapter with sale

Odean Long and her late husband moved the business to Sidney in 1996

Goldstream Food Bank volunteers at work. Light Up the City will be offering various options for the public to drop off non-perishable food items to support this food bank and others in Greater Victoria. (Black Press Media file photo)
Greater Victoria residents can show their charity through Light Up the City

Drive-thru food bank and toy donation dropoff sites open up this Saturday around region

Police will be out in force to target drunk drivers this weekend as part of ICBC’s annual CounterAttack campaign. (Contributed - ICBC)
Police launch Christmas CounterAttack this weekend

On average, 11 people are killed in crashes involving impaired driving on the Island every year

Victoria police arrested a man in a Yates Street grocery store Nov. 27 after he refused to wear a mask. (Black Press Media File photo)
Belligerent man arrested in Victoria grocery store after refusing to wear mask

Officers fined the man $230 under the COVID-19 Related Measures Act

Mary Cox and Jack Plant dance in their pyjamas and slippers at the morning pyjama dance during the Rhythm Reelers’ 25 Annual Rally in the Valley Square Dance Festival in Chilliwack on June 4, 2011. Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020 is Square Dancing Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Nov. 29 to Dec. 5

Square Dancing Day, Disability Day and International Ninja Day are all coming up this week

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

A photo from 2017, of Nuchatlaht First Nation members outside court after filing a land title case in B.C. ( Submitted photo/Nuchatlaht First Nation).
Vancouver Island First Nation calls on B.C. to honour UNDRIP in historic title case

Nuchatlaht First Nation says Crown counsel continues to stall the case using the ‘distasteful’ argument that the Nation ‘abandoned’ their land

West Vancouver Island’s Ehattesaht First Nation continues lock down after 9 active cases were reported today after a visitor tested positive last week. (Ehattesaht First Nation/Facebook)
Ehattesaht First Nation’s COVID-19 nightmare: nine active cases, a storm and a power outage

The Vancouver Island First Nation in a lockdown since the first case was reported last week

The Ahousaht First Nation confirmed its first case of COVID-19 on Nov. 26, 2020. (Westerly file photo)
Ahousaht First Nation on lockdown over COVID-19

“Emotions are high. The anxiety is high. We want our community to pull through.”

Screenshot of Pastor James Butler giving a sermon at Free Grace Baptist Church in Chilliwack on Nov. 22, 2020. The church has decided to continue in-person services despite a public health order banning worship services that was issued on Nov. 19, 2020. (YouTube)
2 Lower Mainland churches continue in-person services despite public health orders

Pastors say faith groups are unfairly targeted and that charter rights protect their decisions

A big job: Former forests minister Doug Donaldson stands before a 500-year-old Douglas fir in Saanich to announce preservation of some of B.C.’s oldest trees, July 2019. (B.C. government)
B.C. returning to ‘stand-alone’ forests, rural development ministry

Horgan says Gordon Campbell’s super-ministry doesn’t work

Most Read