UBC scientists David F. Scott (left) and Adam Wei 9 (right). Scott is an associate professor in earth, environmental and geographic sciences at UBC Okanagan and a Forest Renewal British Columbia Research chair in watershed management. Photo: UBC Okanagan

UBC Okanagan professor details wildfire risks

Associate professor David Scott provides details for the Okanagan’s wildfire season

Though the Okanagan’s fire danger rating is low to moderate at this point in July, wildfire season is still in full-swing.

With long-range weather forecasts predicting a drop in precipitation and a rise in temperature, a UBC Okanagan associate professor in earth, environmental and geographic sciences has detailed what the Okanagan is expecting this season.

“Simply put, the Okanagan is a semi-desert area in a rain shadow,” said associate professor David Scott.

“Because of this lack of precipitation, we are vulnerable to fire because we are dry, and also because we have built up fuel loads by decades of fire suppression.”

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The federal government recently released a report on Canada’s changing climate that details the increased warmth in Canada’s future climate.

Scott said that that could impact Okanagan wildfire seasons in the future.

“What that means for us is that summer starts earlier, summer is longer and there’s more opportunity to dry out the environment, so the fire danger is going to be greater overall,” he said.

“That’s not to say we won’t have cooler or damp summers in between – climate is always variable – but for the big picture and the long-term situation, we’re going to be dealing with greater fire danger and nastier wildfire seasons.”

The Forest Enhancement Society of BC is a provincial government organization designed to prevent and mitigate the impact of wildfires. Communities are being encouraged and assisted through the programs to manage wildfire risks.

Scott said that Fire Smart, a wildfire program that has helped Okanagan homeowners, is one way to prepare for wildfire season in the Okanagan.

“It’s a program that’s full of straightforward and practical advice for homeowners on how to clean up their properties in preparation of wildfire season,” he said.

“People need to take responsibility for their land and manage their fire risk. The public shouldn’t feel like they’re helpless – there’s a lot they can do to help themselves.”

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Time will tell what this wildfire season will look like in the Okanagan, and predictions are hard to come by.

“We’re really waiting to see what Mother Nature will do,” said Scott.

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