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Taking control of B.C.’s wildfire situation

Frank Bucholtz writes that fire could become a problem for the Lower Mainland before summer’s over.
Seventy-eight hectares of Burns Bog was consumed by the fire that began on July 3, 2016. (Curtis Kreklau photo)

By Frank Bucholtz

The wildfire situation in B.C. is as grim and desperate this summer as it has ever been, and there could be problems with such fires in the Lower Mainland as well before the summer is complete.

Last year, there was a significant fire at Burns Bog in Delta in early July. The fire broke out on July 3 in the northwest portion of the bog. For a time, it was threatening nearby industrial businesses at Tilbury Industrial Park, but a concerted effort by Delta fire department and many other assisting agencies kept the fire confined to the bog area itself. It took eight days before it was extinguished.

There have been a number of fires at Burns Bog over the years, with one of the largest ones taking place in 2005. It is one of the largest forested areas south of the Fraser River. There are plenty of other forests in Surrey and Delta, including Sunnyside Acres in South Surrey, Green Timbers in North Surrey, Watershed Park in North Delta and many other smaller (but still significant) forested areas.

In recent years, local municipalities have put up many fire warning signs at this time of year. One such sign at the entrance to Green Timbers on Fraser Highway notes that the fire danger is high. That means something as small as a discarded cigarette could start a fire. And with the dry conditions, it could easily spread.

It is extremely important to follow the warnings that fire departments and the provincial government have issued. There should be no open fires of any kind, anywhere. Cigarettes and other smoking material need to be carefully extinguished and not tossed out of vehicle windows or tossed on the ground.

In the Cariboo and Thompson regions, the numerous forest fires have already caused almost 40,000 people to leave their homes – some of which have been destroyed by the fires. Many other buildings have also burned. Should any one of the fires burn down a sawmill or other forest products plant, the jobs associated with that plant will likely disappear.

Given that there are very limited options for employment in areas like the Cariboo, this fire may mean an even further hollowing out of communities which have already shrunk in size in recent decades, due to government department downsizing and the sale of BC Rail, along with many other factors.

It is far too early to know just how much timber has been destroyed by the various fires, but it is a safe bet that the supply of logs needed to feed those plants has been drastically reduced as a result of the fires. Thus plants could close anyway, even if they remain standing.

A fire in this area would not have the same devastating effect on employment, but any fire that spreads to commercial, industrial or residential areas would quickly do millions of dollars in damages. In addition to the loss of property, there is also a very real possibility of a loss of life if a fire gets established in a forested area and quickly goes out of control.

The Cloverdale Arena is one of two Lower Mainland facilities set up to help people who have been displaced by the wildfires, and thus far more than 300 people have used the services available there. It is quite likely that many more will do so. No one was staying overnight there as of Monday, but the arena is able to accommodate people overnight if necessary.

Many Surrey, Delta and White Rock residents have contributed to fire relief efforts mounted by a number of businesses, or directly to the Canadian Red Cross which is administering disaster relief efforts for victims. Interestingly, many of those efforts have been mounted by B.C.-based companies like Save-On Foods, White Spot and London Drugs, all of which have deep connections to the province.

It is frustrating to many of us to hear about these fires, and know people who are directly affected, but feel powerless to do anything. We can contribute to these funds, and can reach out and offer assistance to friends and family who are affected. The province is doing a lot, but it can’t do everything and government assistance can never take the place of caring family and friends.

Thankfully the transition from a BC Liberal to an NDP government, which occurred Tuesday, isn’t likely to slow down the work being done to halt the spread of these fires and help those who have been affected.

Frank Bucholtz writes weekly for Black Press, as well as at