British Columbia recorded its worst-ever fire season this year, said CBC Monday. Wildfires that began in early April scorched just over 12,000 square kilometres of timber, bush, and grassland and at their height forced 45,000 people from their homes.
Climate change didn’t directly cause major wildfires in Alberta and British Columbia this year but it did contribute to their extreme nature, explained Mike Flannigan, a professor of wildland fire at the University of Alberta, to CBC.
North America Wildfire Damage Update: October 2017
“There have been deadly fires and historic fires in Chile, Portugal — twice — and California,” detailed Flannigan.
“The amount of fire activity in Canada, which currently is about 21⁄2 million hectares — about half the size of Nova Scotia — has doubled since the 1970s.”
“It’s been quite a devastating year globally and the California fires will be the most expensive … (with) tens of billions in losses.”
WILDFIRE RESPONSE IN CALIFORNIA
As for the US, urban-wildlands fire policy in California has developed piecemeal, said professor of fire science at UC Berkeley, Scott Stephens, to the San Fransisco Chronicle October 12. Historically, large-scale urban conflagrations were the result of structure-to-structure fires, fuelled by wood buildings. These types of urban fires are uncommon now because urban areas contain fewer wood buildings, and most buildings include fire alarms, fire-resistant walls, and sprinklers. As the recent fires in California have demonstrated, there is still a long way to go in reducing similar losses in urban-wildlands interface fires.
Despite known risks, people continue to move into wildfire- prone areas at high rates. The issue is particularly acute in California, where a recent analysis indicated that more than 5 million homes are located in the urban-wildlands interface. This number is expected to increase further as urban dwellers seek the “natural” amenities, e.g., open space and recreational opportunities, provided by wildland areas. Similar trends are exacerbated by long-term economic conditions, such as the declining value of rural land uses, such as agriculture or timber, which result in land being of greater value for housing than for other uses.
As homes continue to be built in flammable wildland areas, the Californian approach to building has yet to catch up to the types of hazards faced by homeowners. For example, it is evident that most homes ignite because of windblown embers that can travel more than a mile. At a minimum, vents that resist ember entry into attics and fire-resistant roofing and other building materials are key, yet such requirements are recent, and regulatory enforcement is patchy.
Regulatory approaches aimed at reducing the inconsistencies in local land-use planning should be implemented. One approach would be to require any new development reviewed by a state-level land-use agency, said Stephens to SF Chronicle.