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

Just Posted

B.C. declares state of emergency as more than 560 wildfires rage

This is only the fourth state of emergency ever issued during a fire season

UPDATE: 5 injured in plane crash following Abbotsford International Airshow

One in critical condition in incident involving vintage plane

Shag Creek area under evacuation order, area expanded

93 properties are being told to evacuate immediately

B.C. Wildfires 2018: Thousands prepare to leave their homes at a moment’s notice

Northwest B.C. and Cariboo seeing most fire activity in province as crews battle 490 fires

Interim GoFundMe payments approved in Humboldt Broncos crash

$50,000 to be given to each of the 13 survivors and each family of the 16 people who died

Ottawa intervenes to get B.C. ball player, 13, to Little League World Series

Before immigration issue was resolved, Dio Gama was out practicing the game he loves Wednesday

Pet goldfish invades small B.C. lake

Pinecrest Lake is located between Whistler and Squamish

Chinese medicine practitioner in B.C. facing historical sex assault charges

71-year old Kit Wong practiced acupuncture from his home during the time of the assaults

Quebec sets aside $900 million for companies hurt by U.S. tariffs

Premier Philippe Couillard says his government will make $863 million available over five years

B.C. woman set for trial in Alberta as animal cruelty investigation continues in home province

Karin Adams was discovered with eight dogs in Alberta weeks after having 16 dogs seized in Quesnel

B.C. company patents Sasquatch, the country’s first homegrown hops plant

Created by Hops Connect, Sasquatch hops are being grown commercially for the first time in B.C.

Farmers ponder impact of alternatives to pesticides being banned

The nicotine-based pesticides scientists have linked to a rising number of honey bee deaths will be phased out of use in Canada over a three year period starting in 2021.

Most Read