This year is looking like a record breaking year for wildfires in BC, with significant wildfire activity increasing all over the province. We have had a long stretch without any significant precipitation across the province, and as such the resources of the Wildfire Service are being stretched thin. With no significant rain predicted in the short-term forecast, this fire activity shows no signs of slowing down.
Across the forests of BC, wildfire is a natural and recurring natural disturbance. Our forests have developed over thousands of years with wildfire acting as a force of renewal, redistributing resources through the ecosystem and creating space for new forests to develop. However, in the last century, wildfires have clashed with other societal values such as safety and economic stability; the threat of wildfire became less acceptable to communities that existed in the forested lands across British Columbia, and wildfire was aggressively suppressed.
This approach of wildfire suppression has led to a highly distorted and problematic forest composition across the landscape: where there once was a mosaic of stands of varying ages and compositions, we have many forests with dense, continuous vegetation and much higher fuel loads. This wildfire suppression approach, when combined with the increased climatic variability associated with climate change, has led to an extremely challenging predicament for forest management in 21st century BC. The forests have a much higher than what is considered natural fuel for wildfire. Fires in these stands will burn with much more intensity and vigor. Where these forests meet human communities, the wildland urban interface, we have the potential for major threats to community safety.
Wildfires are a natural part of the ecosystem, and it is unrealistic to expect to prevent and extinguish all wildfires. Mitigation of the threat of wildfires is key, and allows human communities to coexist with this natural phenomenon. Communities and homeowners should seek advice based on the principles of Firesmart. Sites can be assessed based on the threat the surrounding ecosystem and vegetation pose to wildfire ignition and spread, and a strategy can be implemented and followed for managing this threat. This often includes selective removal of flammable vegetation, reducing vegetation density, and locating structures using advantageous topography to limit wildfire vulnerability.
Wildfire is an integral part of the forests that cover British Columbia, and these forested landscapes have evolved with a dependence on periodic wildfire. However, a balance needs to be struck with the ecological benefits of wildfire and the other values forests generate. We hope communities and homeowners seek advice on how to mitigate the risks of wildfires and safely live in a landscape where wildfire can be expected.
Stay safe out there!