Wildfire 2017: Fuel management key to preventing interface fires

By Adam Donnelly
November 14, 2017 - 4:58pm Updated: November 15, 2017 - 9:53am

KAMLOOPS — Last week, we looked back at the 2017 Wildfire season, and the impact it had on our province and region.While the cost to many communities was high, the potential for destruction was even greater. CFJC Today looks at that potential, and what can be done to avoid a greater loss of property in future fire seasons.

2003 was one of the most severe fire seasons in British Columbia’s history, prior to 2017.

That summer, more than 265,000 hectares went up in flames, and over 300 homes were lost between the two most notable fires - the Okanagan Mountain Fire destroyed and damaged 238 homes, while the McLure Fire damaged 72 homes and 9 businesses.

According to BC Fire Information Officer Ryan Turcot: “If you were to look back at 2003, which a lot of people remember as the last serious fire season on record, 45 000 people approximately were displaced during the course of that fire season.”

After that summer, Firestorm 2003 was released. In the report by Gary Filmon, recommendations were made to manage the fuel around communities, in order to prevent further tragedies from occurring.

“There was a very strong set of recommendations to do fuel management around communities to remove some of that risk,” UNBC Professor Phil Burton said. “But then our memories are short, and political priorities and budget needs get in the way, and it kind of went onto the back burner.”

While the final numbers have yet to be tallied for the 2017 wildfire season, the best estimate now puts the number of structures lost this summer at over 300. Some of the hardest hit areas in the Kamloops Fire Centre were the Boston Flats trailer park and Loon Lake, as a result of the Elephant Hill fire.

“As BC’s population expands, we’re seeing more and more development into what we call the ‘Wild Land Urban Interface’,” Turcot said.

That interface area is what Burton says we need to focus on, in order to lessen the risk of fire damage to communities in the BC interior.

“We should designate special fuel management zones around communities”, Burton explained. “The rule treatments that are needed in terms of creating safe spaces… those need to be implemented with resources and investment, not just in one year or one time, but ongoing into the future.”

While a major tragedy, like the one that played out in California late this summer, was avoided in BC, we need only look to what happened in Fort McMurray in 2016 to see what’s possible if a fire manages to breach into a city the size of Kamloops.

Burton says: “So many of our suburbs are in forested communities, and even those that are in grassland or scrubland, the lessons from California tell us those are not safe either.”

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