Firefighter sets a back-burn to contain the Meldrum Creek wildfire complex, spreading east towards Williams Lake, August 2010. (B.C. Forest Service)

Hype doesn’t help forest fire efforts

Andrew Weaver’s climate change claim doesn’t match reality

Coming off the coldest winter in recorded history for much of B.C. and a cold, wet spring, I’ve been waiting for someone to blame the latest round of forest fires on conditions created by human-caused global warming.

B.C. Greens leader Andrew Weaver didn’t disappoint. Shortly after 100 Mile House was evacuated, he seized on a comment from an unnamed B.C. Red Cross official who opined that disasters are happening more frequently in B.C.

“Sadly, as the effects of climate change take hold, events like the wildfires displacing so many British Columbians are becoming increasingly common,” Weaver announced from his leafy Oak Bay constituency.

It’s understandable that the Red Cross is feeling stretched. After relentless cold this past winter, B.C. has barely finished coping with floods due to unusually high snowpack that continued to grow through May and still hasn’t melted entirely.

And now fires, presented once again as a new, unprecedented threat. I’ve been chronicling provincial fire seasons for many years, and I’m no longer surprised by this sort of brazen political falsehood.

No worries, politicians say, we’ll just ramp up that carbon tax and start diverting the revenue to subsidize pet projects like electric cars, and those forest fires will subside.

RELATED: $90 million spent fighting B.C. wildfires since April 1

The first thing to remember about this year’s fires is that they are clearly not a result of increasingly hot and dry conditions. It was only a few weeks ago that the usual jokes about “June-uary” were circulating as rain carried on into summer throughout the province.

Has there been an extraordinary stretch of hot weather in the first couple of weeks of July? No. Are conditions in the Southern Interior drier than usual? No. Is it unusual for these areas to dry quickly in summer? No. Take a walk through the sagebrush some time. Watch for rattlesnakes.

Here’s some context you won’t hear from grandstanding politicians and drama-seeking Vancouver media as communities in the fire-based forest ecosystems of the B.C. Interior face their biggest threat since 2003.

This season’s crisis began with a dry lightning storm passing through the arid B.C. Interior on July 7, resulting in 56 reports of new fire starts. By the weekend, there were 140 starts reported in a day and a provincial state of emergency had been declared, due to the proximity of communities.

There were similar dry lightning events in 2015 and previous years, but fortunately they did not strike along the populated Highway 97 corridor, and got little attention. To cite one of many examples, Williams Lake was almost evacuated in 2010, when the Meldrum Creek fire complex approached 500 square kilometres and looked ready to jump the Fraser River from the west. Smoke was drifting into Manitoba.

By last week, the total since April 1 passed 600 new fire starts, compared to just under 500 at the same time in 2016. But the area burned last year was almost twice as big, due to April grass fires that spread into boreal forest in the Peace region and into Alberta where the Fort McMurray fire was closing in. An average B.C. forest fire season is around 2,000 reported fires.

Foresters don’t generally cite climate change, however one defines that slippery term, unless prompted by reporters. They talk about decades of fire suppression that artificially built up fuel loads across vast areas, and the huge costs facing communities trying to mitigate that situation. They talk about bark beetle infestations that add to the fuel load from decadent forests that must burn and always have burned to regenerate themselves.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

Just Posted

Quesnel Bantam Rep team short-benched after player injuries

Two more players sustained injuries at a tournament in Salmon Arm tournament Nov. 11-12

2017 in Review at the Quesnel Museum

The Friends of the Museum work hard on projects and issues relating to the Quesnel Museum.

A Quesnel resident could make a great difference

Volunteer needed to help Quesnel families live well with dementia

Magic on ice: Quesnel’s Selena Van Aert to perform in Vancouver

Local skater will perform in her third year with Disney on Ice

Education ministry supporting student safety in Quesnel with QJS closure

Move to Maple Drive Junior School will solve problem but ministry says it is temporary

Quesnel local is raising the bar in competitive powerlifting

Quesnel local has proved he’s a fierce competitor and an up-and-coming powerlifter

Fuel spill follows train derailment near Hell’s Gate

Empty grain train jumped the track after a landslide

Dead rats on doorstep greets Summerland mayor

Two rodents have been delivered to Peter Waterman’s doorstep

Northeastern B.C. residents urged to be specific when reporting fires

Fire dispatch services are now being handled by North Island 911 in Campbell River

Cougar confronts man in Clearwater

Clearwater resident Barry Joneson had a close encounter of the cougar kind

Panda picks Argonauts for the win

Giant panda at the Toronto Zoo picks Argos to win Grey Cup on Sunday

Black Friday fervour wanes as some consumers, retailers shun practice

Some businesses are choosing to opt out, while some shoppers are turning to buying online

Stay safe on B.C. roads this holiday season

RCMP warn drivers to plan a safe ride home or suffer the consequences this holiday season

Most Read