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LETTER – We need to learn the lessons from this year’s wildfires, now

I hope we can finally learn the lessons fires and subsequent reports tried to teach us in 2003, 2010 and now. We need to get back to prescribed burns and we need to be more proactive with preventive measures.

Those are easy words for me but more difficult for you to implement so please hear me clearly. I realize these measures come at a cost. I am ok with a short-term tax increase knowing there will be long-term savings by not spending hundreds of thousands (if not millions) per hour, annually, in reactive fire-fighting and associated structure and other losses.

I am a long way from a fire expert. Here are some items which seem apparent to me. By doing proactive measures, we can build guards, put out sprinklers and hoses and do backburns on regular wages, not overtime. Helicopters and airplanes are on the ground, loaded and ready but on standby rates, not full-rate in-flight charges. We can aim for days with a good venting index. We can post notices advising those with health issues so they can leave or properly prepare themselves.

We need to mow our highway ditches. Smokers aren’t getting any smarter and vehicles are still having accidents and leaving the road. Green grass is harder to burn. Should we  change what we plant in our ditches? Are there ground cover species which are less likely to dry out and be a hazard? Should we burn the grass in the ditches?

None of these measures are easy to implement because of the wide range of jurisdictions, budgets and perspectives. Hopefully private and public landowners and associated agencies can find common ground to reduce our hazards and therefore our long-term costs.

Please don’t tell me being proactive is not in the budget. There’s only one taxpayer – me – so federally, provincially or municipally, someone reacts to a wildfire and I pay the bill. I want that bill reduced.

Please don’t tell me to wait and we’ll talk once the fires are out. We need to talk now while everyone is raw and aware and paying attention. Once the cooler weather hits, the kids go back to school, fall sports begin and memories fade.

The media are giving us daily exposure to myriad experts and academics with years of experience and insights. We need to gather the best of that information and ACT on it, starting now – Fall 2017.

TOM RANKIN

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About Mel Rothenburger (5132 Articles)
ArmchairMayor.ca is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At ArmchairMayor.ca he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

2 Comments on LETTER – We need to learn the lessons from this year’s wildfires, now

  1. Well said Tom,I agree completely.One of those pro active issues is of course sprinklers.I have been “ON” for some time now about the outstanding technology called Firebozz.This is a medium sized water cannon that provides a 300 ft wet fire guard.It is also about 70 ft high.Had the forest service deployed this measure proactivly the controlled back burn at Ashcroft would have actually been controlled.It was not isolated and control was lost when the wind came from an unexpected direction.Who knew that could happen???What was the cost of this escaped wildfire as opposed to the cost of a few water cannon?
    Prescribed burns ?Proactive protection of structures (ie Loon Lake) etc could be saved.All of these activities could be pursued with effective technology.That technology exists and should be employed now rather than after fire season.Interface areas of cities and towns could also be effectivley protected if some proactive steps were taken.

  2. Like the writer, I’m no expert of fighting forest fires. But my father did a few summers with Forestry during university and even served as an air spotter during the big ’58 fire season. Back then, I was told, fire activity was photographed with Polaroid cameras from the air and the photos were parachute-dropped to the ground crews… but I digress. However, in amongst the stories were some basic truths that have stuck with me.

    One… we’ve become too good at fighting fires and the natural cycle hasn’t been allowed to complete itself. The result is an over-abundance of flammable material on the forest floor that contributes to the extreme fires we see today. Add to that the weather and heat resulting from climate change and the results are serious. I recall reading recently that the Provincial government commissioned a study on exactly this, which was completed around 2008 or 2010. It recommended measures that should be taken to mitigate the risk. To the best of my knowledge, that report was paid for with our tax dollars, but never acted upon. I’d love to know if my understanding is correct, or not.

    Two… fire activity usually increases in the afternoon. Why then, do we see back burns being started in news clips, in the heat of the afternoon? Will the Ministry do a review of their actions when things quieten down to see whether the back burns that went the wrong way and made things much worse might have been the result of bad decision-making?

    It’s easy to armchair-quarterback… that much I recognize. But I think it’s safe to say this sort of fire season is likely to become more common in future years. We need to do our best to adapt our control measures to the new reality.

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