The heat dome that rolled through B.C. in the summer of 2021 brought with it temperatures exceeding 40 C, with Lytton reaching 49.6 C..  (File photo)

Opinion: Never too soon to be wildfire ready

In Plain View by Lachlan Labere

It seems no one expected, or was prepared for the heat dome that rolled over B.C. in late June 2021.

The extreme heat phenomenon began on June 25. Over subsequent days, Salmon Arm firefighters responded to a difficult barn fire and other incidents, while out-of-control wildfires ignited in the Shuswap and throughout the province.

Though residents of the region have experienced prolonged bouts of dry, hot weather in the past, as well as wildfires, it wasn’t uncommon to hear people say they’d never seen anything like what we experienced last year.

Which made sense, given the record-breaking temperatures.

Another first for some last year was the prepping of “grab-and-go bags.” I searched online for suggestions of what to pack, so I didn’t forget anything important. In addition to a change of clothes, food and water, a first-aid kit and copies of important documents and insurance papers, I also took photographs of pretty much everything I could think of at our residence, including the residence, and put them on a thumb drive.

Why am I thinking of this stuff right now when we’re still receiving snow at higher elevations – and at lower elevations in spots throughout the North Okanagan-Shuswap last weekend?

Because there have also been wildfires this year – 25 in total, according to the BC Wildfire Service. Among them were a pair of small, person-caused fires northeast of Kamloops, as well as one north of Falkland, all discovered on April 8. All are listed as being under control.

Read more: Letter: Heat wave should have cleared away any doubt on climate change

Read more: Column: Climate change and the summer of our discontent

Given how full of distractions life can be, and how quickly things seemed to happen last June, it makes sense to take advantage of this relatively less stressful time to plan ahead, or perhaps amend plans from last year.

For example, with the dropping of vaccine passports and masks, it’s reasonable to expect hotels and motels in the area will be very busy, so alternative accommodation arrangements may be needed.

Property owners might also want to look at making their places more FireSmart. The Columbia Shuswap Regional District recently announced it had received grant funding for projects aimed at reducing the risk and impact of wildfires. This includes hazard assessments of homes, properties and neighbourhoods, and education on ways homeowners can reduce fire risks.

In February, the B.C. government announced it would be making the BC Wildfire Service a year-round operation. Subsequently, there have been a number of prescribed burns in the province – one of the tactics being used in the off-season to reduce wildfire risk.

One of my concerns last year was the overwhelming amount of information coming from local governments regarding wildfires active in their respective jurisdictions. While this service was needed, it was at times challenging when we were dealing with multiple fires, and numerous related evacuation warnings or alerts, spanning several neighbouring government jurisdictions.

I’m still hoping a more collaborative approach might be found involving municipalities, regional governments and First Nations.

I have no idea what to expect for weather this summer, but I’ll be readying that go-bag soon just in case.
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