A future with more fires

The first half of B.C.'s summer has been filled with wildfires, and as the climate continues to change, things could get a lot worse.

In B.C. alone, 501 wildfires larger than 0.1 hectares have burned as of Wednesday, burning an estimated 426,000 hectares - the third worst fire season on record.

Kevin Skrepnek, chief fire information officer for the BC Wildfire Service said Tuesday more than 300 buildings have been burned in the province so far.

The Canadian government expects conditions across the country to become even more fire-prone as the climate becomes warmer.

“This could potentially result in a doubling of the amount of area burned by the end of this century, compared with amounts burned in recent decades,” states Natural Resources Canada on their website.

Dr. John Innes, dean of UBC Vancouver's Faculty of Forestry, conducted a study on the impact of climate change on wildfires in the Kelowna area back in 2007.

“What we've seen and what we're predicting is that the fire season is going to get longer at either end ... and we are also seeing increased severity being predicted, so the fires will burn hotter,” Dr. Innes said. “That was about 10 years ago we did that and we predicted exactly whats happening.”

Dr. Innes says that while the weather's impact on wildfires fluctuates from year to year, there has been a trend of longer and more intense fire seasons since his study 10 years ago.

"What we are seeing is an increase in the frequency...of fires, and we're also seeing a lot more interaction between humans and fires,” he said. “The more people who go out and recreate in the forest, the greater the risk is that someone is going to be careless with a campfire, and I think we're seeing exactly that happening right now.”

Looking towards a changing future, Dr. Innes says it will become more and more vital to create buffers between people's homes and potential fire areas, by clearing brush, bulldozing swaths of trees, or creating physical barriers.

“What we can do is try and ensure that we have buffer zones between settlements and areas that are likely to burn, and that's what the government has been trying to do but they haven't actually put much money into it,” he said. “I believe the area that has been treated up to date ... is only 10 per cent of what was recommended (in 2003).”

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