Get ready: changing weather patterns mean BC wildfires are here to stay

You CAN protect your property, and it’s never too early to start

Extreme weather affected people around the world in 2021, but British Columbians saw more than their fair share, including the deadliest natural disaster in Canadian history, a record-setting “heat dome” that killed almost 600 people.

Scientists routinely note that while it can be difficult to pin individual local events to global climate change, the trends are unmistakable: as temperatures continue to rise, weather patterns keep straying further and further from historical norms.  

Worse, some of the forces already unleashed are at least partially self-sustaining, some have the effect of exacerbating other impacts, and some contribute to both their own recurrence and that of other phenomena. Melting polar ice caps, for instance, shrink the surface area covered by snow and ice, reducing the amount of sunlight that gets reflected or refracted back into space, causing our planet to absorb more heat and, therefore, melting the ice caps even faster.

Wildfires are especially problematic

These kinds of feedback loops are particularly troubling for British Columbia because the province is increasingly prone to wildfire, and wildfire is among climate change’s most versatile troublemakers, especially at the scales and intensities seen in recent years.

Wildfires don’t just ruin air quality and directly threaten property, natural resources, and human lives: they also increase local and even regional temperatures, release vast amounts of carbon stored naturally in trees and other plant life, and leave less vegetation alive to filter future emissions out of the air, all of which reinforces climate change and its associated impacts. Larger fires even generate their own weather systems, including high winds and lightning storms, touching off still more fires that carry some or all of the same hazards.

And there’s more. Even after a wildfire is extinguished or burns itself out, the scorched landscape left behind carries additional destructive potential. If the fire burns with sufficient intensity, chemical changes to the top layer of surface soil prevent rainfall from seeping into the ground, setting the stage for flash-floods. And if enough rain falls to saturate that layer, it can trigger devastating landslides and mudslides.

This is precisely what happened in November 2021, when an “atmospheric river” dumped record amounts of rain on parts of BC that had been ravaged by wildfires in June and July. Widespread flooding followed, and unstable hill and mountain sides gave way, washing away structures, roads, bridges, and other infrastructure. Luckily, there was minimal loss of life, but this was the costliest natural event ever recorded in BC, and hundreds of stranded motorists had to be rescued by helicopter.

Don’t just get used to it – do something about the threat

Given all of the above, and the fact that international efforts to rein in climate change continue to fall short of what climatologists recommend, there is plenty to worry about, and many BC residents are doing just that. In a recent poll conducted for FireSmart BC, almost two-thirds of respondents agreed that the frequency of severity of wildfires “are going to get worse before they get better.”

They are almost certainly right, too, but worrying is no solution to any problem, and FireSmart BC offers a long list of proven methods that empower people to protect themselves, their properties, and their neighbourhoods from wildfire. From yard maintenance and landscaping choices to construction materials and organizational support, we and our partners help individuals and even whole communities to reduce the risk of catastrophic loss in the event of wildfire. And as one BC resident has shown, an ounce of prevention can be worth a houseful of cure

Don’t wait. FireSmart practices can make structures, properties, and even entire neighbourhoods more resilient and likely to survive, and while BC’s peak wildfire season is months away, so is California’s – and a fast-moving fire there forced evacuations and road closures even as this article was being written.

For homeowners living in wildfire-prone areas, the message is clear: the danger is not going away any time soon, and there are proven measures you can take to protect your property. For specific instructions on how to reduce the risks in the short, medium, and long term, please check out the following links:

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