The worst of the wildfire season in B.C. might be hundreds of kilometres from Victoria, but we can smell it, see it and feel it in our lungs.
For the second summer in a row, hundreds of fires are burning throughout the province, turning midday in Prince George to dusk. Much of British Columbia’s matchless scenery can now be seen only through smoke that has made its air quality among the worst in the world.
It is only luck that has kept southern Island forests from burning, as so many fires have been human-caused. A carelessly discarded cigarette or an ember from a campfire could set dry woods ablaze just as easily here as in the Interior.
As the climate warms, vegetation dries more quickly, so fires spread faster and burn hotter. Trees killed by the mountain pine beetle add still more fuel.
One fire scientist said that for every 1.8-degree-Fahrenheit rise in air temperature, it takes 15 per cent more rain to restore the moisture in the plants and trees. Low humidity is the killer.
A study in 2015 said fire seasons around the world have become about 18.7 per cent longer since 1979, and that suggests this fire season isn’t an aberration. If widespread fire and smoke are becoming a fact of summer life in B.C., we have to make changes to protect our health and our homes.
We have to look at how we fight fires, how we prevent fires, how we care for those with lung problems and how we design rural communities. We can’t just spray water on this year’s fire and hope that next year will be better. It won’t be, unless we stop warming the planet.