Human-caused wildfires

Although the majority of wildfires are ignited by lightning, an average of 40 per cent of wildfires in British Columbia are human-caused each year, according to the provincial government.

However, in 2011, human-caused wildfires accounted for a staggering 68 per cent of the province’s wildfires while last year it was 54 per cent. The Globe and Mail published a story last week pointing out that almost half of wildfires reported in B.C. this year have been caused by humans.

Increased fines for a variety of wildfire-related violation tickets came into force last year, but they are obviously still not enough.

Since 2016, anyone caught contravening specified open burning and campfire regulations faces fines more than three times higher than the previous years’ penalties – from $345 to $1150. Failing to extinguish a cigarette will cost an offender $575.

In addition to the fines, people found to have started a wildfire could face one year in jail and could also be forced to pay for the cost of firefighting.

But maybe stiffer fines are just part of the equation. Maybe the province needs to take a more comprehensive approach to this issue and include an education component.

As of Monday, 37,000 people had been evacuated from their homes and many others were on evacuation alerts. When you take into account the amount of resources deployed to battle these wildfires, the damage to properties and the risk to people’s lives, the fact that half of our wildfires are started by humans should be unacceptable.

There are numerous ways human activity can start wildfires, either accidentally or intentionally. Activities include open burning, the use of engines or vehicles, dropping burning substances such as cigarettes, or any number of other activities that can create a spark or a heat source sufficient to ignite a wildfire.

John Innes, Dean of the Faculty of Forestry at the University of British Columbia, told The Globe and Mail that a significant number of fires are simply the result of carelessness.

“Fires are started by campfires being left unattended or not properly extinguished, cigarettes being thrown away without being put out (especially from cars),” he said.

Besides an education component, which could include education in schools and a broader campaign, the province should also consider banning open burning earlier in the season or not waiting until conditions are extremely dangerous to implement these bans.

In the Northwest Fire Centre, for example, an open burning ban was implemented on Monday July 10 even though the province had already declared a state of public emergency on Friday July 7 and the fire danger rating in the Northwest Fire Centre had been “high” for days.

Although humans have an ability to get accustomed to unpleasant situations, British Columbians should not be so complacent when it comes to wildfire risk.

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