Wildfire in BC

Following the devastating wildfires of 2018 and 2017, forest professionals are working to find ways to best prevent and mitigate future wildfire outbreaks to help manage BC’s forests and keep communities safe.

The Association of BC Forest Professionals provided a detailed series of recommendations to the 2017 Abbott/Chapman Flood and Wildfire Review. The ABCFP submission was based on consultations with select forest professionals about their knowledge and experience of the 2017 wildfire season. Clearly, new approaches and ideas are required to manage wildfire in BC. As fire seasons become longer, and wildfires become larger and more intense, they begin to overlap with the Preparation and Recovery phases of emergency management.

Among the 25 recommendations in the ABCFP submission to the Abbott/Chapman flood and fire review, the ABCFP called for:

  • Making wildfire a specialized area of practice complete with specific operational professional practice standards. These standards would focus on planning, prevention, and rehabilitation of burned forest ecosystems.
  • The ABCFP, forest industry, and BC Wildfire Service to work with government to develop professional standards and science-based guidelines for prescribed burn planning, approvals, and how to apply them during wildfire response.
  • Government, industry, First Nations, and municipalities to collaborate to fund positions for additional wildfire professionals.
  • Work with academia to offer education opportunities and training in on-the-ground wildfire management.

The ABCFP, in conjunction with BC Wildfire Service, is now working on ways to improve wildfire training and professional standards, connecting with the public about the role of wildfire in the landscape, and collaborating with stakeholders to prepare for wildfires.

Prescribed burning is one of the key tools used to reduce fuel hazards in forests and restore fire-adapted ecosystems and mitigate future wildfire severity.

These two articles, originally published in the March/April 2019 issue of BC Forest Professional, describe in more detail the history, use, and rational for prescribed burning.

The Future of Prescribed Burning in BC
Pyro Silviculture: The Art of RX Fire

Summary of the 2018 and 2017 Wildfire Season*

*Source: BC Wildfire Service

The 2018 wildfire season was unique in its impact to almost all regions of the province, and in its record-setting area burned.

Statistics:

  • 2,117 fires consumed 1,354,284 hectares of land, which surpassed the previously held record of hectares burned from 2017 (over 1.2 million hectare).
  • 66 evacuations were ordered, affecting 2,211 properties.
  • The total cost of wildfire suppression reached $615 million.

Weather was a key driver of fire activity, bringing record-breaking temperatures and severe lightning storms to many areas. More than 70,000 lightning strikes lit up the province between July 31 and August 1, followed by another extreme lightning event on August 11. Within less than two weeks, the BC Wildfire Service was responding to nearly 400 new fires.

On August 15, 2018, a Provincial Declaration of State of Emergency was made to support the ongoing response and management of the wildfire situation. It was in place for 23 days, compared to the 70-day Provincial State of Emergency in the summer of 2017.

Like 2018, the summer of 2017 is considered one of the worst wildfire seasons in British Columbia’s history.

2017 was unprecedented by measure of:

  • the amount of land burned (over 1.2 million hectares)
  • the total cost of fire suppression (over $568 million), and
  • the amount of people displaced (roughly 65,000 evacuated)

The fire season prompted a Provincial State of Emergency that was declared on July 7 and not rescinded until September 15, lasting 70 days. This was the longest Provincial State of Emergency in the province’s history, and the first to be declared since 2003.

At peak activity, over 4,700 personnel were engaged in fighting wildfires across B.C., including over 2,000 contract personnel from the forest industry and over 1,200 personnel from outside the province. This support came from across Canada, as well as from Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, and the United States. Ground personnel from the Canadian Armed Forces were also brought in to fight fires for the first time since 2003.

In response to this extraordinary fire season, some extraordinary measures were taken to help prevent human-caused wildfires. Off-road vehicle prohibitions were implemented in the Cariboo, Kamloops and Southeast fire centres and full backcountry closures were implemented in the Cariboo Fire Centre and Rocky Mountain Natural Resource District. Campfires were also banned across most areas of the province throughout the summer due to the incredibly high fire danger rating. Prohibitions like these are very rare in B.C. and are only implemented when absolutely necessary.

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