EDITORIAL – Wildfire review up against the clock before next fire season

(Image: BC Wildfire Service)

THE NDP GOVERNMENT has finally called an inquiry into this past summer’s wildfires, adding the devastating flood situation into the mix.

The only surprise, if you could call it that, is that it took so long to get a review underway. There’s an obvious need to look back at what happened this year, to figure out what was done right and what could be done better, and to get ready for the next big one.

Former B.C. cabinet minister George Abbot and Indigenous leader Maureen Chapman, who will head up the review, would be well served to take a look at the 2003 commission led by former Manitoba premier Gary Filmon.

He toured B.C. gathering input from all manner of people affected by the horrendous wildfires of that year, and authored a cogent report on what needed to be done.

Many of his recommendations will sound all too familiar to those who lived through the 2017 wildfires. He talked about communications, command and control, recovery and public education.

FireSmart? Experts this year were urging communities and homeowners to adopt its principles of reducing fire-damage risks — Filmon urged the same thing way back in 2003.

He wrote about preparedness for evacuations, about the important role of community fire departments, and other key issues that are the same as today.

Structural sprinkler systems, which are portable units that can be set up on streets where fire threatens, are a big topic right now. Filmon talked about them in his report, too.

In large part, the mandate of this new review will be to find out what we learned since 2003, and what we should do next.

The Filmon Commission was able to get its job done by February the following year, providing good lead time before the next fire season. Because it’s only now getting going, the Abbott-Chapman review isn’t expected to file a report until April, by which time the province will be gearing up for the 2018 season.

It will be a tight squeeze to implement any recommendations in time for next year. We can all hope it won’t be a repeat of 2017, of course, but if the experts are right, we won’t have 14 years before the province once again goes up in flames.

I’m Mel Rothenburger, the Armchair Mayor.

Mel Rothenburger’s Armchair Mayor editorials appear twice daily Mondays through Thursdays on CFJC- TV. His Armchair Mayor column is published Saturdays on and CFJC Today. Contact him at

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2 Comments on EDITORIAL – Wildfire review up against the clock before next fire season

  1. There are many steps that can/should be implemented to ;;No 1 stop “in progress ” No 2 the extensive and intelligent use of the controlled burn, using different forms of sprinkler systems to Pro Actively surround areas of greatest fire danger.By burning these controlled areas they will form lines of fire resistant forest.Cutting overgrown underbrush and clumping of trees in interface areas has worked well in many places.(Juniper for one.)The interstitial planting of deciduous trees is surprisingly a effective way of slowing rampant fire in coniferous areas. (You may google the practice that was used in test fire blocks by the Ontario Dept of Lands and Forests back in the /60’s.
    I’m not sure of the actual percentage of structural fires that are caused by flying embers but it is in excess of 90%.Therefore , if you can wet down and keep structures and the areas like roads and fields wetted you can prevent the loss of many many structures.This is extermely evident if you look at photos of burned out homes and see unburned fine fuels left all around them.See the video of Loon Lake where cottages within 20 meters of the lake burned to the ground but fine fuels within 5 meters of the structures were left untouched.These places burned because of embers in the air landed on the dry roofs and they could/should have been saved by technology like ” Fire Bozz.” (Google it!!!)
    It seems to me that house insurance companies might be interested in helping with the cost of these systems if only to protect the places that they would have to pay for if they burn.
    If you can surround a test fire area and virtually guarantee that the fire stays within those boundrys then you can prevent the useless death of many ungulates and other endangered species.And if these area are Pre- burned , in lines they will act as fire brakes for future wild fires.
    When the Louis Ck fire leveled the houses/antiques store and mill back in 03 they burned because there was no water available .Guess what??? The bloody wooden power poles burned out and stopped the pumps .If they were ,( a few at a time, through attrition)) replaced by steel poles this problem would cease to exist.
    Bedroom communities like Juniper and Rose hill etc have gravity fed water systems but those cisterns are filled by city pumps powered by hydro that comes to them on wooden power poles.”NO POWER ////NO WATER” Replace the wooden poles !!!! The cost to re build one house might exceed $ 400,000 .This would buy enough “Fire Boss” units to protect virtually all interface homes in these communities.

    Will there be any public input component as part of the gov’t review ???

  2. At the risk of over-simplifying a very real and looming threat, I believe it isn’t about not understanding what needs to be done, but actually doing it. I understand there have been reports in the past, paid for and mostly ignored by the past government, that made some fairly obvious observations. The two most important comments I’ve heard are that one; we’ve become too good at fighting wildfires, thus allowing fuel to build up over the decades that would have otherwise have burned by now, and two; climate change is real and brings with it extreme weather that can make a bad fire year that much worse. Extra fuel and extra dry conditions result in fires that look like… well… what we saw earlier this year.

    A report is useless if it sits on a shelf, ignored and unloved.

    It’s about mitigation before a fire is ignited, and good policy and plans to protect structures when they are threatened. Then throw in some good common sense about how to actually fight it and that’s about all we can do with the tools we have.

    Relating to ‘common sense’. Experience is a great contributor to common sense. Did anyone else notice how young the people on TV apparently charged with making decisions appeared to be? Was there a lack of gray hair and wisdom? I don’t know this to be true, but what I saw made me wonder. And stories (admittedly, stories I can’t confirm) about backburns that got away because they were lit too early in the day (before the aggressive afternoon activity), combined with comments about no evening shifts working when fire activity slowed… only create more questions. I don’t know how much of this is true, but hope that the report confirms one way or the other.

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