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

 

Just Posted

Vehicle fire quickly doused

Penticton Fire Department were dispatched to a vehicle fire

Injured mountain biker airlifted to hospital in Kelowna

A mountain biker spent the night with rescuers after suffering injuries

Summer solstice celebration

The Okanagan’s Largest Summer Solstice celebration is planned for June 21 in Penticton

Farmers’ market temporarily on the move

The Penticton Farmers’ Market is moving temporarily moving on June 23

UPDATED: Oliver wildfire extinguished, B.C. Wildfire mopping up

6-ha. brush fire contained before it could spread farther

Homeless people living on ‘Surrey Strip’ move into modular housing

BC Housing says 160 homeless people are being moved into temporary Whalley suites from June 19 to 21

BC Ferries posts strong earnings before rate cuts

Last year highest ever for vehicle traffic, most walk-ons in 20 years

More than 150 tremors hit Vancouver Island in last 24 hours

Seismologists monitor to see if pressure will be added to major fault

UPDATE: Kelowna stabbing victim tight lipped about incident

Police say 35-year-old North Okanagan man stabbed in Mission area Sunday won’t talk to investigators

Snapchat used to make mass shooting threat in Kamloops

RCMP did not dub the threat a hoax, instead called it “unsubstantiated”

Amphitheatre planned for Kamloops area winery

Monte Creek Ranch Winery can finally proceed with amphitheatre plans

B.C. groups file response to government’s fight against solitary confinement

B.C. Supreme Court judge suspended ruling for one year to give government time to draft legislation

National sports organizations have to report allegations of abuse immediately

Sporting organizations will lose federal funding abuse goes unreported, says Kirsty Duncan

Most Read