Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Past Firefighting Efforts Have Made B.C. Forests More Fire-Prone: Expert

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Past Firefighting Efforts Have Made B.C. Forests More Fire-Prone: Expert

Article excerpt

B.C. forests more fire-prone than in past: expert

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VANCOUVER - British Columbia has been so successful at putting out wildfires in recent decades that it has actually created a situation where its forests are more prone to flames, says an expert.

Lori Daniels, an associate professor of forest ecology at the University of British Columbia, said firefighting efforts over the last 60 to 100 years have allowed for denser forests with a lot of dead material on the ground.

Now, when the province has hot, dry weather and lightning strikes or there is a human ignition, the fires are much more severe and fast-moving, she said.

"The irony is we tried to protect our forests from fire and we created a situation where they're much more susceptible and the fires are more damaging," she said.

The province declared a state of emergency on Friday after about 140 new fires broke out. By Sunday, crews were battling 220 blazes.

Daniels said in the past, the fire season began around the third week of July with the majority of fires starting in August. But over the past decade, B.C. has seen several years where hot and dry weather has begun earlier in July, she said.

The last time B.C. called a state of emergency over wildfires was in 2003, but even then the fire danger ratings only started to hit very high or extreme levels in August, she said. Currently, the whole southern two-thirds of B.C., including coastal areas, have very high or extreme ratings.

It's hard to tell with certainty whether climate change is the culprit, but the current patterns are consistent with climate-change predictions for fire activity made 20 years ago, said Daniels.

"We are on the path that was projected related to climate change," she said. "And as we look to the future, the kinds of fire weather conditions we have now that we consider extreme, when we project forward based on climate change predictions, they become more like our average conditions. …

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