WHEN B.C. WILDFIRES start in March and go until at least October, is the term “Wildfire Season” even applicable anymore?
In 2017, B.C. had its worst wildfire season on record, with more than 12,000 square kilometers of forests burned, and 65,000 people forced to flee their homes.
Now this year, in early spring, there are already daily reports of wildfire. In March, there was a wildfire on East Shuswap Road, and another on the Kamloops-Shuswap Road. Since April 1, according to BC Wildfire Service, there have been 37 new wildfires including at Juniper Beach, Douglas Lake Road, and two at Spences Bridge. Many are suspected to be human caused, such as two fires last week east of Cache Creek.
In McLeese Lake last week, a deliberately set grass fire to clear weeds exploded. The fire, which came close to threatening the village, was a direct example of how human activity is making things worse.
BC Wildfire Service reports 40 per cent of all wildfires are human caused. Of these, about 22 per cent start from campfires, about the same from open fires, and a similar number from “incendiary devices” such as matches, lighters, and flare guns.
As the wildfire season gets longer and longer, how we do things needs to change.
It’s time that rural areas of the province have more fire restrictions.
Currently, for instance, the Thompson Nicola Regional District (TNRD) imposes no restrictions on open air fires. The region imposes no restrictions on open air fires in areas such as Pinantan, Pritchard, Savona, or Birch Island. Except when there are provincial fire bans, there are no restrictions on campfires, agricultural burning, hazard abatement or land clearing.
Compare this to Kamloops. Within city limits, fires are restricted to parcels one acre or bigger. A permit must be applied for through Kamloops Fire Rescue.
In Kamloops, open fires for farms, hazard abatement and land clearing are restricted to Nov. 1 to March 31. Cooking fires are allowed year round, but are restricted to three per household on parcels one acre or greater. Bylaws restrict the times of fires, the size, and their location to buildings. The fire service can restrict the dates of fires based on the fire hazard or air quality index.
The Regional District of Central Okanagan also requires permits for open burning to reduce hazards and limits when burning can happen.
Certainly the TNRD could argue that it is up to the province to restrict fires in rural areas. That’s just what the province is doing starting April 15 in the Cariboo Fire District, when all Category 3 open fires are restricted.
But there are 140,000 people living in the TNRD. Of those, 50,000 live outside Kamloops.
Fire is now a constant threat. It’s time the TNRD imposes stricter open fire bylaws, just like in Kamloops. I’d say it’s likely the same can be said for other parts of the province as well.
As the 2019 season ramps up, I won’t be surprised that there will be another record year for forests burned. Here’s hoping that no matter what else happens, everyone will stay safe, and there will be no loss of life. Thanks to everyone who works so hard to keep us all safe, year after year.
Nancy Bepple is a former City councillor of Kamloops with a strong interest in community building projects.