FILE – A wildfire broke out near Squamish in 2019. (BC Wildfire Service)

‘We are not immune:’ Forest fire risk is real even in B.C.’s coastal temperate rainforest

‘The ups are getting a little bit higher and the downs aren’t going as low as they usually do’

By Martha Perkins, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, North Shore News

What a difference a cloud can make.

On a grey, wet day, Lori Daniels can stand outside her North Vancouver house, look out at the nearby mountains and marvel at their beauty.

On a hot, sunny day — especially if it comes in the midst of a string of hot, sunny days —, she looks at those mountains with wariness. What would happen if the campfire that some young people started over the weekend wasn’t fully extinguished? What if smouldering coals cause a tree to ignite and the wind picks up a burning ember, dropping it on the roof of her house?

As a professor of forest ecology and fire ecology at the University of British Columbia, those aren’t esoteric questions for Daniels. She knows the science and, as a person living near a forest, she knows that she can’t soothe her anxieties by saying “This will never happen to me.”

“I’m sitting in my backyard now,” she says during a telephone interview on an overcast afternoon. “I’ve just come out of Hunter Park which, after the rain, was quite moist so the fire danger is low. But if you had talked to me three days ago, in the middle of our little hot, dry spell, the fire danger was absolutely much higher, even here in out coastal temperate rainforest.

“We like to think that there’s not much fire danger here but, in truth, we know that in the summertime we live in a dry, hot climate. Although this year has been a little bit cooler and wet, if we look over the last five years we’ve had some of the biggest fire seasons in coastal regions in the last century…. We are not immune.”

Daniels is grateful for the leadership role that the District of North Vancouver is playing with its FireSmart program, as well as its implementation of FireSmart protocols in its building and renovation codes. She says the district is showing leadership by being proactive.

However, much of the responsibility for keeping homes safe — as well as protecting the lives of firefighters — falls on individual homeowners.

Her family has already done a lot to mitigate the risk of their house catching on fire and while she understands why others might be tempted to procrastinate, she wants to amplify the district’s message: the risk is real.

Human nature is often reactive. When our roof leaks during a rainstorm, we remember to get it fixed. When the number of coronavirus cases climb, we remember to wear a face mask. When we see smoke, we remember that we were supposed to remove all those dead branches from our roof.

You can still hope for the best but it’s better to also plan for the worst.

“FireSmart doesn’t guarantee that your home is never going to experience a fire but it sure gives you a better chance of having your house survive that fire. And, perhaps more importantly, it creates a safe space if wildland firefighters have to go into your yard and defend your home,” Daniels says. “One, you have a better chance that they’ll save your house and, two, you’re not putting their life at risk.”

READ MORE: 85% of B.C. wildfires since April have been human-caused

South of the border and in regions where forest fires have become a more constant threat, home insurance costs have been known to triple. Sometimes you can’t even get insurance if you live or build in a fire-prone area. Future fires on the North Shore could create similar pressures here. It’s therefore financially more prudent to invest in some FireSmart initiatives now — it can be as simple as cutting back branches and being vigilant about clearing debris — than risk higher insurance premiums later.

Daniels says we are seeing the impact of climate change.

“Our hot, dry summers do put us at risk,” she says. “From a fire ecology and fire management perspective, .125the coastal fires of.375 2015 was like turning on the light switch for all of us. Then, in 2017 there was an early fire season. We broke 85 high temperature records in one summer whether we were on Vancouver Island, the southern interior, the northern interior or on the coast. We had extreme weather conditions that exceeded anything in the instrumental records for more than 100 years.

“And that’s part of a pattern. When we look over the long term, temperatures are creeping up in the winter and summer routinely has greater droughts. This year and last year were wetter as part of our natural variation from year to year, but the overarching trend is still towards hotter and drier.”

Imagine a rollercoaster, she says. On the West Coast’s weather rollercoaster, “the ups are getting a little bit higher and the downs aren’t going as low as they usually do. So instead of the rollercoaster starting and ending at the same point, this rollercoaster starts and ends a little bit higher than it did before.”

“I don’t think we would have talked about this in 2010,” Daniels says. “Now we know it’s something that we need to be aware of and it’s simply a shift in the way that we’re understanding, experiencing and responding to wildfire.”

So, in these waning days of summer, when the hot is not too hot to work outdoors, and the cold is not too cold to let everyone forget forest fires are a risk even on the North Shore, Daniels encourages everyone to practise a little preventative yardwork. Clean your roof, prune those trees and start imagining what might happen if a burning ember was to waft onto your property.


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

bc wildfiresWildfires

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Victoria police seek suspects in series of bear spray attacks

Police responded to several calls Saturday evening

Thief steals ice cream bars from Oak Bay Dairy Queen

Oak Bay resident out nearly $10,000 as CRA scam strikes again

Lamborghini driver slapped with nearly $1,000 in fines while speeding in Central Saanich

Vehicle impounded by Central Saanich police, 11 points issued

West Shore RCMP arrives just in time thanks to tip

Officers remind of resources after mental health call Monday morning

Man arrested after speeding to Victoria court date for driving offence

West Shore RCMP remind drivers to be mindful of construction zones

Weekend sees 267 cases, 3 deaths in B.C.; Dr. Henry says events leading to COVID spread

There are currently 1,302 active cases in B.C., while 3,372 people are under public health monitoring

Lightning strike: Tampa Bay blanks Dallas 2-0 to win Stanley Cup

Hedman wins Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Shawnigan Lake’s Kubica gets 25 to life for murder in California

Former Shawnigan Lake man convicted of killing woman in 1990

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Pedestrian dies in motor vehicle incident along the highway near Nanaimo Airport

Police investigating scene where 37-year-old woman from Nanaimo died

B.C. VOTES 2020: Echoes of HST in B.C. debate over sales tax

Cannabis, tobacco, luxury cars still taxed in B.C. Liberal plan

Police seek help in naming Cowichan farm stand theft suspect

Video captured man prying cash box out of stand on Norcross Road

She warned her son about toxic drugs, then he was dead

Donna Bridgman’s son died at the age of 38 in Vancouver

Most Read