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'An urgent situation': Climate experts warn wildfires in B.C. will be more common without action

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Kristine Andersen watched as the White Rock Lake fire consumed much of her backyard property in Monte Lake.

“The fire took out the whole backyard and came right up right to my deck in the front,” she told CTV News Vancouver in a Zoom interview from her front porch.

“I lost over 15 acres of timber in the back.”

She is one of the many residents in that community who have decided to stay behind despite an evacuation order.

“You got everything invested in your home, right? And you know (you) can’t really trust the situation to the wildfire people. It’s almost a yearly thing up here, not to this scale,” said Andersen. “I don’t know. It’s home.”

Monte Lake and Paxton Valley have lost many homes and businesses to the White Rock Lake fire, and earlier this summer the town of Lytton burned to the ground in a separate blaze. There has also seen a lengthy drought and record-breaking heat.

“This summer has been a stark reminder of the impacts of climate change and the need to continue preparing for hotter weather and more difficult fire seasons as individuals and as a province,” said Mike Farnworth, B.C.’s Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General.

Farnworth said the province is going to be monitoring the drying during this next heat wave very closely.

“(BC Wildfire Service is) very much watching for where the key hot spots are and are prepared to fight fires as soon as they’re spotted and as soon as they’re reported in,” said Farnworth.

More than 600,000 hectares have burned this summer in B.C. and there have been thousands of people forced to leave their homes due to evacuation orders.

“That heat dome at the end of June really set us up for some really significant fires this summer,” said Lori Daniels, a professor of forest ecology at the University of British Columbia (UBC). “And then they’ve just been perpetuated by the lack of rain.”

The fire season started early in B.C. and there are still weeks left. With another heat wave on the way, Daniels is warning that residents could see more fire activity and growth.

“What the United Nations, with that Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has told us is that the conditions that we were anticipating by 2050-2080 are here with us now,” she said.

Daniels said changes need to be made to how Canadians “live in our landscapes.” That includes rethinking how forests and fires are managed with climate change in mind. She added that the UN report is a call to action.

“This is an urgent situation,” she said. “We can’t let this summer just be another warning that slips past us that we don’t respond to. This is what our future looks like.”

Greece, Algeria, and California are also facing raging wildfires right now.

“The good news in that UN report is that we still have, you know, 10 to 30 years for fast action to start adapting and to mitigate our greenhouse gas emissions so that we are better prepared,” said Daniels.

Chantel Guimont is a Vernon resident. She has been watching the White Rock Lake fire move closer to her parents’ community on the west side.

“I’m concerned and I’m scared,” she told CTV News. “We see it every year and it’s just getting worse and worse and worse.”

Guimont said she believes climate change is definitely playing a role, but she also thinks there’s a lot governments and citizens can do to protect their homes just by removing burnable materials from dangerous areas.

“I travel the valley a lot every day and I’m constantly seeing areas sitting with just all this environmental fuel … why is nothing being done about this?” she said. “It’s frustrating honestly.”

She added that she doesn’t think the province should be welcoming out-of-province guests during the current wildfire season.

“This is the worst fire season we’ve had in recent years and, you know, now’s not the time to be coming and enjoying your summer, because we’re certainly not,” said Guimont. Top Stories

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