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Sparking awareness during a high-risk season

PRINCE GEORGE, B.C. - During the summer months a forest fire breaking out in B.C. is almost as predictable as rising fuel costs. While increased prices at the pumps are only a danger to your wallet, f...

PRINCE GEORGE, B.C. – During the summer months a forest fire breaking out in B.C. is almost as predictable as rising fuel costs. While increased prices at the pumps are only a danger to your wallet, forest fires present an extreme danger for the men and women who use the vast forestland as their workplace.

“The main goal is quick identification. How fast is it spreading and what’s around? It’s mostly building a strong communication system and knowing what equipment is around and available,” explained Roy Nagel, general manager with the Central Interior Logging Association.

“The first job is to phone the licensee right away and report it. The licensee then calls the forestry centre and they decide how much equipment goes out and the state of the fire emergency.”

The B.C. Ministry of Forests and Range estimates that people are the cause of approximately half of the wildfires in the province each year.

Near the end of July, the province had experienced more than 1,200 wildfires, which consumed more than 105,000 hectares of land.

The result was a contingent of about 1,750 firefighters deployed across B.C. to the firelines.

“Although weather is the biggest factor in determining the kind of fire season we experience, the public also has a huge impact,” said Rich Coleman, Minister of Forests and Range.

He went on to state that given the constant potential for lightning during the summer and the difficulty of predicting where lightning may strike, the Forest Service needs everyone’s co-operation. “When people prevent unnecessary fires from starting, we can save our firefighting resources for fires caused by lightning.”

Fire dangers

With constant reaffirmation of the dangers of fire expressed to the public, Nagel says that weather is becoming a larger factor in causing the wildfires.

“There has been so much attention to this issue that I think the number of human caused fires has come down,” he noted. “It’s like the safety file, the more you talk about it the more people take an extra second to do the right thing.”

In Nagel’s Central Interior region, wildfires are not as feared as they are in other parts of the province.

“Surprisingly there are not a lot of fires in the Central Interior region. When this stuff dies it is more susceptible, but there are a lot of things involved,” he explained.

“We do have the needles on the floor and that sort of buildup of fuel, but you also have a wetter forest floor. We don’t tend to have the heat of the Okanogan. Also we have a small window of thunderstorms; not a lot of lightning strikes in this area. Down in the Okanogan it’s a lot different than it is here.”

Nagel has witnessed wildfires that have engulfed the Okanogan Valley while either driving through the region or on vacation and says it’s not a pretty sight.

Fire watches

To help limit the amount of wildfires in B.C. during the summer months, the Ministry of Forests and Range monitors weather patterns and implements a varying level of fire restrictions depending on the situation and region. Fire watches in the forest industry are also mandated by the provincial government and in turn have an effect on the log-haulers’ schedules.

“During a fire watch all driving will occur at night, if at all; because it is cooler and the dew reduces the risks,” explained Nagel.

In addition, the Ministry of Forests and Range requires anybody carrying out industrial activity in the forest to be equipped with a minimum of one fire fighting hand tool.

When your workplace is on watch to essentially go up in flames at any point, preparation and awareness is ultimately the best preparation, advises Nagel.

“Obviously no area is immune, but with pine beetle and the weather patterns this is not the worst area for susceptibility or likelihood,” Nagel concluded.

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