CONSIDERING FOREST MANAGEMENT Robert Gray believes wildfires in British Columbia will become more larger and more frequent unless changes are made to forest management. Photo submitted

Fire ecologist advocates prescribed burns

Change in forest management needed to reduce number and size of wildfires

Massive wildfires, evacuation orders and smoky skies are becoming regular facets of summer in the B.C. Interior and will continue to become more severe, a B.C. fire ecologist predicts.

Robert Gray, a Chilliwack-based fire ecologist with more than 30 years experience in fire science, believes conditions such as those seen in 2017 will become increasingly common — unless new forest management practices are adopted.

“We’re likely to see more of what we’ve seen in the last couple of years,” he said.

RELATED: Smoky skies bulletin issued for most of B.C.

Gray is the president of R.W. Gray Consulting Ltd. and works with forest management in the United States and Canada.

In 2017, the province experienced one of the worst fire seasons in its history. That year, more than 1.2 million hectares of land was burned and roughly 65,000 people were evacuated.

The cost of fire suppression efforts that year topped $568 million.

“A 1.2-million hectare fire season finally woke people up,” he said.

RELATED: Okanagan Mountain Park wildfire measured 1,370 hectares

Prior to 2017, the 2003 fire season was considered one of the worst in British Columbia’s history, with nearly 2,500 fires burning more than 265,000 hectares, and resulting in more than 30,000 people being evacuated.

While that fire season is still remembered as a destructive summer and fall, more recent fire seasons have had greater numbers of fires and a larger area of land burned.

“2003 was a blip compared to what we’ve seen over the last couple of years,” he said.

Gray has studied that fire season and co-authored the report, Firestorm 2003, after that season.

And in years to come, he predicts wildfire seasons could cause three to four times the damage as in the 2017 season.

However, he adds that it is possible to prevent this bleak, fire-charred future.

RELATED: Mount Eneas wildfire offering more smoke, remains under control

Gray suggests conducting prescribed burns in spring and fall to reduce the amount of fuel available for wildfires in the summer.

“Unfortunately that means putting smoke into the sky,” he added.

He also advocates other efforts to reduce the amount of dead wood, needs and other fuel sources on the forest floor.

RELATED: Fire near Naramata grows overnight

He says British Columbia’s First Nations people used to practice prescribed burns to manage the forests. And in the United States, a modified suppression system allows fires to burn if they are not putting people at risk.

In contrast, Canadian wildfire efforts, especially in British Columbia, are much more aggressive in an attempt to protect timber supplies by containing and extinguishing forest fires.

He believes the Canadian approach to fire suppression is a significant factor in the increasing size and number of wildfires today.

“We have about 20 years to turn things around,” he said.

Gray has been urging a change in forest management practices for years, but in recent years, the response has changed and provincial government officials are more receptive to his suggestion of prescribed burns.

Signature

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Paper Excellence, owner of Crofton mill, hit by malware

Paper production in Crofton, and other mills, impacted by incident

B.C. NDP’s throne speech speaks of benefits to B.C., says MLA Scott Fraser

Fraser agrees to meet with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs over pipeline

Port Alberni’s Old Puckers playing for BC Children’s Hospital

CFOX’s hockey team will make the long trek to central Vancouver Island for the game

BIZ BEAT: Get a head start on spring cleaning in Port Alberni

Chris Fenton walks across a desert to raise funds for ACAWS

Blair says RCMP have met Wet’suwet’en conditions, calls for end to blockades

The Wet’suwet’en’s hereditary chiefs oppose the Coastal GasLink project

B.C. lawyer, professor look to piloting a mental-health court

In November, Nova Scotia’s mental-health court program marked 10 years of existence

COLUMN: Not an expert on First Nations government structures? Then maybe you should calm down

Consider your knowledge about First Nations governance structures before getting really, really mad

Meet the Wet’suwet’en who want the Coastal GasLink pipeline

Supporters of the pipeline are upset only one side is being heard nationwide

One dead in multi-vehicle collision involving logging truck on northern B.C. highway

DriveBC says highway expected to remain closed until 8 p.m.

B.C. teacher gets 15-year ban after lying about having sex with just-graduated student

Teacher had been dishonest with the B.C. Commissioner for Teacher Regulation

Pipeline talks got B.C. railway open, can work again: Horgan

Premier says protest excesses damage Wet’suwet’en case

Exclusive: Pamela Anderson talks plans for waterfront Ladysmith property after 12-day marriage

Anderson says she can pay her own bills. Peters denies making comments suggesting she can’t

Burger King breaks the mould with new advertising campaign

The company is known for irreverent ad campaigns

Most Read