The worst possible bad news has been realized in western North America: wildfires across the region this year are as bad, or worse, than 2017. The wildfire experts have been proven correct over the last couple of years when they warned that epic forest fires would become the “new normal.” Wildfire ecologists in British Columbia (BC) have been warning that the government must invest in more targeted plans to mitigate the fuel load currently helping make these fires worse, and the forest industry must adapt their timber management practices, to expect these kinds of raging wildfires every year.
It is not so much that this year could be on track to be a record-breaking year; rather, it is that tremendous timber losses due to fire are becoming the new normal.
US Wildfires (California): August 30, 2018
British Columbia Wildfires: August 30, 2018
SOURCE: British Columbia Wildfire Service
In all, more than 4,600 square miles of British Columbia landscape went up in flames in 2017, according to the latest government data released in August, making it the worst wildfire season on record. Any hope that 2017 was an anomaly has been shattered during the 2018 season, which is now the second worst on record. By August 22, more than 3,700 square miles of the province had burned—a total that will only increase in the days ahead.
Total Area of British Columbia Burned By Wildfire to August 2018
SOURCE: National Fire Database, BC Wildfire Service via @CanadianPartnership
Efforts to mobilize response have been ongoing, and really got into swing this week when the Mayor of Quesnel, BC, Bob Simpson continued work to follow up on Quesnel’s Forestry Think Tank session, which took place in May at Quesnel’s North Cariboo Community Campus. The Think Tank session was attended by approximately 70 forestry sector professionals, as well as the Honourable Doug Donaldson from the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resources Operations and Rural Development, to explore opportunities to use the city as an “incubator” to accelerate research and development in the domains of alternative forest management and innovative manufacturing and processing of forest raw material.
For the past two years, the hot and dry weather that has allowed so many large fires to develop in BC has been driven by a blocking ridge of high pressure that's been stuck over the province for much of the summer. The air beneath that ridge sinks, warms and dries, creating perfect conditions for a raging inferno if it sticks around for a week or more, according to Mike Flannigan, a professor of wildland fire at the University of Alberta. That stagnant pattern has developed because the jet stream is weakening as the Arctic warms, a phenomenon that could spell more bad news for BC.
In the meantime, aside from the more technical efforts of Bob Simpson and the Quesnel Forestry Think Tank, wildfire experts would like to see more proactive measures being employed across BC. Controlled burning and thinnings, preparing homes and businesses through the Fire Smart program and developing early warning systems for wildfires all help to mitigate the scope and damage of wildfires.