Pine Beetles, debris fueling wildfires
Published Wednesday, August 5, 2009 12:34PM PDT
Hot dry weather is among the more obvious reasons for the large number of wildfires in British Columbia this summer.
In the North Shore Mountains near Vancouver, for example, district firefighters have had to deal with about 60 fire incidents so far this year, either in the bush, or in forested areas.
That compares to 45 in an average year.
But it isn't just the scorching weather that is causing the problem.
Forests ravaged by the Mountain Pine Beetle are also a contributing factor, government officials say.
The beetles kill the trees by laying eggs under the bark, eventually cutting off the tree's supply of nutrients.
The B.C. Ministry of Forests and Range estimates that the Mountain Pine Beetle has killed a cumulative total of 620 million cubic metres of timber since the infestation began.
The cumulative area of B.C. affected to some degree by the attack is estimated at 14.5 million hectares. That areas is more than four times the size of Vancouver Island.
"I think that trees that are dead are more susceptible to fire starts,'' said Alyson Couch, a fire information officer with the B.C. Forest Service.
Couch said dying trees are adding to the amount of flammable debris that can fuel fires in the province, especially in areas known as the interface where homes and properties are situated.
Forestry economist Tom Hobby says dry material is more to blame then people might think.
"The fuel hasn't gone away,'' Hobby said.
"We've chipped away at two per cent of the hazardous material in the wildland urban interface,'' he said.
He estimates that the so-called interface area may be as large as 1.7 million hectares.
"My hope is that we create new programs and tools to address fuel buildup in this province,'' Hobby said.
But for now, the focus is on the present danger and fire prevention in regions like B.C.'s North Shore area.
It is why officials like North Shore District Deputy Chief Victor Penman are telling people to act responsibly when they venture into forested areas.
He said fire hazard on the North Shore Mountains is rated as high right now.
With a report by CTV British Columbia's Maria Weisgarber