Premier Christy Clark surveys fires threatening Oliver and Midway from the air Aug. 16.

Is B.C. really burning? Not exactly

In terms of dollars spent and area burned, the years 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 were all well below average

On a recent drive through the B.C. Interior, I passed through McLure and Barriere, communities north of Kamloops that were devastated by wildfire in 2003.

While these communities have recovered, blackened tree trunks are still visible where fires burned for 75 days and forced the evacuation of 3,800 people.

With the early start to this year’s fire season, the media attention and effects of an unusual spring drought, you might think that B.C. is on pace to match that terrible summer.

You would be wrong. As of last week, area burned and money spent by the B.C. Wildfire Service had only just exceeded the totals for mid-August during last summer’s fire season, which were high but not remarkable.

The number of individual fires is higher this year, but that’s mostly a result of lightning storm patterns. Spending has topped $200 million, as it did last year at this time before finishing just below $300 million. The 2003 total was above $400 million, and the 2009 season was slightly below that.

Forests Minister Steve Thomson cautions that there are still many weeks to go and hot, dry conditions are expected for much of that. Once the damage is done for the year, the ministry reviews the impact on forests and begins assessment of which areas should be replanted and which should be left to regenerate naturally.

Pine forests need fire to regenerate, and the strategy in recent years has been to allow fires to burn out naturally and contain them to protect people and property. Decades of fire suppression, based on viewing Crown forests strictly as a timber resource, helped create conditions for the beetle epidemic that has left vast quantities of dead wood to fuel more fires.

The 2003 fire season set the tone for political debate on forest fire policy that has continued since then. The opposition points to recommendations from former Manitoba premier Gary Filmon that removing fuel from around communities is the best protection.

This task has proven impossibly big, especially as rural community tax bases shrink, but the ideological dance continues in Victoria. The NDP campaigned in 2013 on a promise to double tree planting, and its general approach is to spend more money and hire more staff.

Speaking of political dances, Premier Christy Clark has made a couple of appearances at fire sites where homes and businesses have been threatened or destroyed.

(Today’s big-city media formula is to emphasize danger and promote attacks on premiers of all stripes. If they don’t visit disasters, they are callous and uncaring. If they do, they’re exploiting the situation for photo ops.)

In her first fire scene appearance this summer, Clark warned that drought and huge fires may be “the new normal” for B.C. as climate warms and shifts. This is great positioning for the government’s plan to attend the latest global climate doom festival in Paris this fall, but it’s not borne out by recent forest fire results.

In terms of dollars spent and area burned, the years 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 were all well below average. Last year and 2009 were substantially above average, but 2008 and 2013 were among the quietest years on record.

Is drought the “new normal” too? The B.C. government’s own climate change forecast is for increasing overall precipitation, albeit with more rain and less snow.

Snowpacks for southern B.C. were indeed the lowest on record this past winter, but that record only goes back 31 years. And when were high snowfall records last broken? That would be 2011.

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

 

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

Just Posted

Osoyoos Desert Centre prepares for reopening

The 67-acre nature interpretive facility opens June 6

How to safely drink water in areas impacted by flooding

Quality and safety of drinking water can be affected during and after floods

Curbside reads available as Okanagan libraries reopen

Okanagan Regional Library reopened June 2 in phased approach

Shoppers line up hours early for reopening of Penticton’s Care Closet Thrift Store

The not-for-profit thrift store supports several local organizations and charities

Summerland man rescued following ATV accident

Helicopters used to transport injured man to Kelowna for treatment

B.C. records four new COVID-19 cases, Abbotsford hospital outbreak cleared

Four senior home outbreaks also declared over, eight still active

Pilot project approved: Penticton to allow alcohol in outdoor spaces

For almost two hours, council debated the proposed pilot project, before eventually passing it 4-2

Drugs, machete found in truck with stolen plate driven by Salmon Arm man

Chase RCMP arrest driver and have vehicle towed

RCMP, coroner investigate murder-suicide on Salt Spring Island

Two dead, police say there is no risk to the public

About 30% of B.C. students return to schools as in-class teaching restarts amid pandemic

Education minister noted that in-class instruction remains optional

Trudeau avoids questions about anti-racism protesters dispersed for Trump photo-op

Prime minister says racism is an issue Canadians must tackle at home, too

Top cop calls video of Kelowna Mountie striking suspect ‘concerning’

A video allegedly shows a Kelowna Mountie striking a man several times

B.C.’s Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics goes virtual

The annual event partnering RCMP with Special Olympians is dramatically altered by COVID-19

HERGOTT: Can you get money back if COVID-19 disrupts plans?

Paul Hergott is a personal injury lawyer based in West Kelowna

Most Read