Albertans don’t need to be told that forest fires have been burning in British Columbia for much of the summer.
The smoke-filled air has provided adequate evidence of that fact. B.C. officials noted last month that the 2018 wildfire season has already been confirmed as the second worst in the province’s history, ranking behind only last year’s devastating fire season. During these past two years, more than 21,000 square kilometres of B.C. land has been burned.
Most wildfires are sparked by natural causes such as lightning strikes. But a large proportion of them — 40 per cent over the past 10 years — are caused by humans, the BC Wildfire Service says. This season, that amounts to more than 420 wildfires. While that figure, out of about 1,950 B.C. wildfires in total, marks a decline proportionately in human-caused fires, it’s still an additional 400-plus fires that didn’t need to happen.
While Alberta doesn’t typically have the fire problem B.C. does, memories of the 2016 wildfire that destroyed some 2,400 homes in Fort McMurray and forced about 88,000 people to evacuate the city are still fresh in Albertans’ minds. Although the cause of that fire hasn’t been officially determined, it was suspected to be human caused.
There are numerous ways humans can spark a fire. They range from a carelessly tossed match or cigarette to campfires, machinery, burn barrels and pile burning, to name a few. In dry conditions, and aided by wind, the result can be a devastating wildfire that can destroy thousands of hectares of vegetation. One need only travel as far as Waterton Park to see a stark example of such destruction, the result of last September’s Kenow fire.
Recent rain ended an evacuation alert that had been in place for Waterton Park because of the Boundary Wildfire in Glacier National Park in Montana. However, the fire remains active, and the return to sunny, warm weather in southern Alberta will dry things out in a hurry. It was on Aug. 30 last year that the Kenow fire was first detected.
The Kenow fire was blamed on lightning from an intense thunderstorm, but when conditions are dry, an action by a person could very easily start a blaze, too. That’s why it’s vital that people be mindful of their potential to spark a fire, whether by a discarded cigarette butt or by using machinery outdoors.
Statistics indicate that in a typical year, some 7,000 wildfires burn about 2.5 million hectares of land in Canada. The majority of those fires are the result of natural causes. However, the last thing we need is for humans to be contributing to the problem by starting several thousand fires in addition to the ones caused by nature. A little extra thought and care can help reduce those numbers.
As the famed U.S. spokesman, Smokey Bear, has been admonishing for more than 70 years, “Remember … only YOU can prevent forest fires.”
While that may not be entirely accurate – after all, we can’t stop lightning strikes from happening – we can certainly do our part to not add to the forest fire problem.