Editorial: FLOODS AND FIRES: A PLEA
While rivers grow and flow over their banks and spread through communities in southern BC, flooding streets and homes and businesses, people in those communities may have trouble imagining a risk of wildfire, even if they had time and energy to do more than deal as best they can with damage from the floodwaters and the trauma they’re enduring. Our hearts go out to them.
Already, though, forest fires are burning in BC and across the prairies; a different kind of damage and trauma.
Fire hazard in our immediate area is merely “moderate” or “low” right now, and a bit of rain may lower it further temporarily; to see the map for subsequent days, click this link. Yet firefighters in Trail have already been called out to two wildfires. Accidental, or deliberate? There can be few acts more contemptible than setting a fire to burn homes, be it the homes of humans or the great home of forest dwellers.
In most of north-eastern BC, fire hazard is already rated “very high” with some areas rated “extreme.” Fire hazard over much of the rest of the province is rated “high” – even most of Haida Gwai and Vancouver Island.
In BC today (May 16, 2018), there are already 20 active wildfires reported, covering up to 100 hectares each, and a further three that are each between 100 hectares and 1000 hectares in size.
This past winter has vastly increased wildfire hazard in local forests. A walk along local woodland trails involves a certain amount of detouring around, or climbing through or over, fallen trees blocking trails, even though many other such trees have already been sawed out by volunteers or trail workers. The land to either side of the trails is a mass of fallen trees and broken branches. On warm days, the air is saturated with the sweet sad scent of broken and dying conifers. Interface lands that had been cleared of “ladder fuel” by FireSmart work in recent years seem to have been fully re-stocked with ladder fuel, and then some.
“Ladder fuel” is the dry forest debris and dead trees that a fire can climb easily to burn higher, faster, and hotter; cutting it so that it lies compact and flat on the forest floor, rather than being piled loose and high, reduces the fire hazard.
Hikers and mountain bikers can carry small, light folding saws capable of dealing with a lot of ladder fuel, and that can be helpful in reducing our local fire hazard along trails. But volunteer efforts should be directed at low-risk cutting – not at broken trees that are hung up on other trees. Those can be very dangerous to try to bring down; please leave that to experts.
Our area has escaped serious interface fire damage in recent dry seasons. Let’s keep it that way. And even if a wildfire blazes through forests near — and in – our home town, let’s do all we can to keep it from destroying our homes.
As local FireSmart expert, Don Mortimer, has pointed out, when that catastrophic wildfire raged near and through Fort McMurray, most of the homes that burned were not “FireSmart,” while 81% of the homes that survived qualified as FireSmart.
So, please, everyone, take precautions. Learn what’s FireSmart, and do what you can. The piles of spring clean-up debris awaiting pick-up around town are a good start. Here are a few other reminders:
· Avoid having conifers near your house. They’re lovely, but conifers can burn explosively and spread fire faster, further. Can you replace them with deciduous trees? Trees should be at least ten metres away from your home, and separated from each other with at least ten feet between their crowns.
· If you’re thinking of siding for a house or other building, think about fire-resistant siding and soffits. Despite the protestations of the vinyl-siding manufacturers, vinyl siding does seem to pose hazards in the event of a fire, including the health hazard of toxic smoke and fumes containing dioxins when it burns. And it does burn; so does wood siding, but wood is much less toxic.
· Avoid having flammable shrubbery growing up against your house, or long grasses.
· Check out the FireSmart Homeowner’s Manual. Read it a few times.
· Give up smoking – at least in the woods or near dry grasses, and do NOT flick burning butts out your car window. Nearly half of all wildfires in BC are caused by humans doing stupid things; the rest are caused by lightning strikes.
Of course, most people are aware by now that our increasingly erratic and extreme weather – and the accompanying fires and floods – is being exacerbated by our collective stupid refusal to take effective action to curb the climate change we’re causing.
Please. Try to be one of the humans who don’t start wildfires, anyway.
As for climate change, we may be at the point where individual actions cannot be enough to prevent disaster, but as someone else said, “Things are never so bad that we can’t make them worse!” And we can try to avoid making them worse. Here are a few other reminders – you’ve seen them before:
· Avoid flying, if possible.
· Eat less meat, especially beef.
· If you have to buy a vehicle for transportation, get a small, fuel-efficient one, or an electric vehicle. How many of us need a huge pick-up truck, really?
· Walk or bike more, drive less. You’ll feel better, too. Avoid hauling your mountain bike around the highways in a gas-guzzling truck just so you can have a nice little bike ride somewhere else.
· If you must drive, do not leave your vehicle idling and spewing fumes while you nip into a store. That’s not only naughty, it’s also contrary to our bylaws.
· Try not to use or buy plastic stuff that isn’t essential.
· Contemplating parenthood? In your contemplation, remember that refraining from having children is probably the number-one best thing you can do to help preserve some of the biosphere of this rare planet. Besides, beloved children will grow into people who may have to cope with a dystopian world.
· Take time to enjoy life and the beauty around you — you’ll be inclined to keep more of it alive. Won’t you?