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Climate change calls into question the management of forest fires

Although it invests millions of dollars annually in forest fire prevention, some believe that it must devote more resources to it, in addition to completely rethinking its means of fighting those that do break out.

For First Nations Emergency Services Forest Management Liaison Brenden Mercer, the fire that ravaged the area around Lytton was quite surprising.

I was surprised because I know the extent of the work done in these surroundings over time, he explains. They are used to getting rid of the most important potential causes, he adds.

When I assessed the risks in the surrounding area, I had noted areas with dry grass and thorns and they cleaned them up, but they couldn’t prevent all the risks.

A long and difficult season in sight

As of Friday, British Columbia had 172 active wildfires and nearly 1,400 homes under evacuation orders.

The drought cycle is about three weeks in advance, notes Cliff Chapman, operations manager for the province’s wildland firefighting services.

You can’t really compare this season to previous ones because the heat wave hit in June.

The lack of significant precipitation on the horizon made him fear a longer and more fierce fire season than usual, which will have the effect of exhausting firefighters more quickly.

Prepare even better

According to Brenden Mercer, the province’s level of preparedness has greatly improved since the 2017 fires, especially in terms of collaboration with First Nations.

More needs to be done, however, including the controlled burning of potential fuel sources, he believes.

According to him, the efforts devoted to fighting active fires have surpassed prevention measures.

We are at the point where certain ecosystems contain a lot more fuel than they have ever had.

Combined with heat waves like the one sweeping through Western Canada, these areas risk becoming powder kegs, he adds.

Quebec firefighters as reinforcements

On Monday, forty Quebec forest firefighters will fly to British Columbia to lend a hand to their colleagues in the West. This assistance is made possible, because the stable situation in Quebec allows it for the moment, according to Stéphane Caron, spokesperson for the Society for the protection of forests against fire (SOPFEU).

We had a strong start to the season in Quebec, with a very active spring, but here, with the precipitation that fell in the last days and weeks, we are in a slightly calmer situation.

Only two fires are currently active in Quebec, while 7,672.6 hectares of forest have already gone up in flames earlier this year. Quebec supports British Columbia, in collaboration with the Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs (MFFP).

What preparation should you plan for?

The Lytton fire must also serve as a warning, believes University of Victoria researcher Carly Phillips.

It’s climate change that is leading to this kind of fire season, she emphasizes. How do we have to adapt to this new reality?

Climate changes […] must change the way we manage not only fires, but also our resources, she believes.

She notes, however, that in addition to being impacted by climate change, burning forests accentuate them by releasing significant amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.

Must therefore take a preventative approach, rather than just managing fires when they are already burning.

With information from David Ball, as well as broadcasts The Early Edition and On the Coast

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