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

Police ready to evict tent city campers from Goldstream Park

Officers expected to begin moving in on campsite area at 11 a.m. Thursday morning

Greater Victoria officers ready ride Tour de Rock

The annual ride across Vancouver Island for cancer research begins this weekend and arrives in Victoria Oct. 4 and 5

The Victoria International Wine Festival is back!

People can attend Sept. 20-21 at the Parkside Hotel and Spa

Rain and high winds to hit Vancouver Island this afternoon

Thursday and Friday to see downpour of 20 to 50mm and high winds on Vancouver Island

Victoria leads B.C. in rise of Employment Insurance recipients

Amount of people collecting EI surged in July

VIDEO: B.C. deer struggles with life-preserver caught in antlers

Campbell River resident captures entangled deer on camera

Thieves escape after man claims his wife is giving birth

RCMP searching for suspects in brazen daytime break in

Rural Canada Post carriers could see 25-per-cent pay hike: spokesman

An arbitrator has released a ruling in a long-standing pay equity dispute at Canada Post

Seventh day of searching for missing plane between Edmonton and Chilliwack

Search efforts are concentrated along the Highway 5 corridor between Valemount and Kamloops

Freeland brings optimism back to NAFTA talks

NAFTA talks resume in Washington

BC Children’s Hospital warns of possible PayPal fraud

Recipients are asked to forward the emails to PayPal

Still too many B.C. seniors in care facilities, or at home on drugs

Seniors Advocate watching use of antipsychotics, opioids

Officials: 3 killed in shooting at Maryland Rite Aid centre

FBI described the Aberdeen incident as an ‘active shooter situation’

The hunt for online herb: feds seek dope on hazy world of pot’s ‘cryptomarket’

In less than a month, Canada to be first industrialized country to legalize recreational marijuana

Most Read