The Chronicle Herald (Provincial)
More than climate change behind B.C. wildfires
With more than 300 active fires and thousands under evacuation orders, B.C. is on the fast track to the most destructive wildfire season in its history.
Although the fires have become an emblem around the world of the destructive effects of climate change, many of the province’s forestry experts are pointing out that while climate change makes fires more likely, it’s poor forestry management that is helping to make them more destructive.
“Even if we were able to turn back the dial on climate change we would still have wildfires that are severe and would burn people’s houses down,” said Jesse Zeman, director of fish and wildlife restoration with the B.C. Wildlife Federation.
“Climate change just makes everything worse.”
Starting in 2017, B.C. started experiencing fire seasons that were way off the charts of anything in the province’s recorded history.
Warming temperatures have made forests drier and yielded the mild winters that allowed the Mountain Pine Beetle to turn whole forests into highly flammable stands of dead trees. Climate change has also helped drive a spike in the severity of thunderstorms, with B.C. this summer being hit by 10 times as many lightning strikes as usual.
But all these factors are converging on B.C. forests piled high with what wildfire experts call “fuel load” — the accumulated debris, deadwood and untreated clearcut areas that can dramatically accelerate the speed and intensity of a wildfire.
“We’re learning that by protecting our forests we’re really just building a bigger bomb,” said Zeman.
University of British Columbia’s Department of Forest & Conservation Sciences sent an open letter to B.C. Premier John Horgan highlighting the need for more prescribed burns to curb fuel load in the province’s forests.