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

Nearly 20 individuals accessed LRCA’s cold weather shelter during 2020 snowstorm

Most individuals accessed the shelter for food, showers, laundry, and to warm up

Shoot the Moon pub passes public hearing stage

Rod Alsop and Jon Ludtke’s proposed pub is one step closer after a packed public hearing

Nanaimo-Ladysmith MP visits Wet’suwet’en camps, calls for Coastal GasLink pipeline to be ‘revisited’

Paul Manly met with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and the RCMP to talk about the ongoing situation

BREAKING: LSS evacuated after reports of ‘gas smell’

Students were evacuated to Frank Jameson Community Centre, but have since returned to class

Successful end to search for kayakers along the Chemainus River

Father and son located tired and cold, but otherwise OK

‘Presumptive case’ of coronavirus in Canada confirmed by Ontario doctors

Man in his 50s felt ill on his return to Canada from Wuhan, China

VIDEO: Drone footage shows extent of damage in Highway 4 rockslide

Tofino, Ucluelet still cut off from rest of the island, as crews work to repair roadway

People knowingly take fentanyl so make policy changes to reduce harm: B.C. study

Dr. Jane Buxton, an epidemiologist at the centre, says drug users need more resources,

‘My heart is going to bleed’: Bodies brought back to Canada following Iran plane crash

Remains of Sahar Haghjoo, 37, and her eight-year-old daughter, Elsa Jadidi, were identified last weekend

UBC grad and sister killed in Iran plane crash had bright futures ahead, close friend says

Asadi-Lari siblings Mohammad Hussein and Zeynab were two of 57 Canadians aboard downed Flight PS752

BCLC opens novelty bet on Harry and Meghan moving to the west coast

Meanwhile, real estate agency points to four possible homes for the family

Canada slips in global corruption ranking in aftermath of SNC-Lavalin scandal

The country obtained a score of 77, which places it at the top in the Americas

Wuhan bans cars, Hong Kong closes schools as coronavirus spreads

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said her government will raise its response level to emergency, highest one

Most Read