BC forests can’t beat the summer heat

High temperatures, a low snowpack, and low percipitation increase the risk of forest fires. - Photo courtesy of Scott Lough

An SFU professor explains that British Columbians need to be aware of the looming danger from the extraordinarily dry spring we have experienced: an elevated risk of forest fires.

With several fires burning in BC already, including the Dunedin River Fire and the Little Bobtail Lake Fire, the upcoming fire season is predicted to be record–breaking. Experts are stating that there is a high possibility that BC will experience an increase in forest fires from previous years.

According to SFU professor and member of the Landscape and Conservation Science Research Group Meg Krawchuk, this elevated risk is due to a low snowpack in southern and central BC, high temperatures, and low amounts of precipitation in April and May.

The Vancouver region typically sees an average of 75 millimetres of rainfall for the month of May. However, the amount experienced this May was drastically lower: a measly 4.2 millimetres fell at Vancouver airport.

BC forests may be facing an added danger. Krawchuk also stated that some models suggest that dead trees resulting from the mountain pine beetle outbreak in BC’s back-country have increased the likelihood of fire, and resulted in more extreme fire behaviour. However, there is limited quantitative data to support this view.

The upcoming fire season is predicted to be record–breaking.

Although forest fires are often framed as being solely negative, they do offer several benefits. Lightning-based fires beginning from a natural source could provide several advantages for the surrounding ecosystem. Fire in this context provides the region with much-needed biodiversity, explained Krawchuk, as forest fires may remove decaying matter and are necessary for the persistence and resilience of our ecosystems.

Though we are entering forest fire season, there are several ways that people can reduce the risk of starting fires. According to Krawchuk, as most forest fires are caused by people, exerting caution when enjoying BC’s numerous outdoor activities can easily reduce the risk of endangering the surrounding environment.

Krawchuk urges people to be aware of campfire bans and regulations, as well as exerting caution when smoking in order to reduce the risk to our forests and having a safe summer season.

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