Pacific Northwest
A wildfire broke out near Squamish in 2019. via BC Wildfire Service

CAN - ‘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’

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.

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