This is a blog dedicated to a personal interpretation of political news of the day. I attempt to be as knowledgeable as possible before commenting and committing my thoughts to a day's communication.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

"We'd Better Be Wiser"

"Fort McMurray has really focused the public's attention. I'm very concerned for other communities, especially in Western Canada. I'm concerned they're not prepared."
"People tend to think it won't happen again, that it's a once-in-a-lifetime event.  [There's] an urgency for communities and homeowners to get involved  in fire-safe programs. What we think is [an] extreme [fire event] today will be the new normal in 20 or 30 years."
Lori Daniels, associate professor, Department of Forest and Conservation Sciences, University of British Columbia

"We're our own worst enemies, sometimes. If we're going to live and work next to the fordst, we'd better be wiser and more humble about it."
"Stopping forest fires from happening is just not on the program [at the present time]."
David Andison, landscape ecologist, adjunct professor, University of British Columbia

Even if there are no visible flames left in Fort McMurray, it is still in the midst of an active and dangerous wildfire that now spans 2,290 square kilometres, Alberta wildfire officials say.
Even if there are no visible flames left in Fort McMurray, it is still in the midst of an active and dangerous wildfire that now spans 2,290 square kilometres, Alberta wildfire officials say. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press) 

Simply put, there's a type of personality that loves nature, and being close to nature. People like to build houses on floodplains, close to forests, so that when they look out their windows they can see trees or rivers or lakes, a natural environment pleasing to their aesthetic. People who build houses on clifftops only to see their backyards eventually tumble into the valley below and their homes become vulnerable to landslide are in the same category.

Nature does rule supreme. On the scale in which nature has endowed her servants -- wind, rain, fire -- there is no real stability, since natural environments are subject to change and subject to the influence of the environment. People building their homes at the foot of volcanoes are rolling the dice, but usually those people have little choice; there are few alternatives and they tend to be without other resources.

In Germany, famously, people living in towns and villages hard by forests tend to traditionally venture into the forests to clear away brush that becomes fire hazards. The purpose is twofold, by taking out old dried, dead tree branches they reduce the capacity of a fire to find the tinder-dry fuel it seeks, and at the same time avail themselves of wood to heat their homes. This is common-sense wisdom born of experience and love of nature as well.

Fort McMurray's out-of-control wildfire succeeded in destroying 2,400 houses and other buildings. But what happened there, according to Dr. Daniels, represents no anomaly but a process that will occur repeatedly and with a similar impact to that experienced in Fort McMurray. Her concern is that Canadians vulnerable to wildfires by where they choose to live, have failed to make themselves knowledgeable about the threat.

As she sees the situation, people living in these environments should take the responsibility for their own safety to become involved in fire-safe programs, to become knowledgeable about forest and wildlife management. What Canadians have become adept at is evacuation. Close to 90,000 residents of Fort McMurray evacuated in an orderly manner to arrive safe at another destination to wait out the fire. Yet the vulnerability of such communities has yet to be adequately addressed.

One subdivision saw 80 percent of its 800 homes destroyed. Those homes were built inside a boreal forest with the slightest of buffer zones between the wood-frame homes and the highly flammable season-dry forest. Nearby Oilsands facilities, on the other hand, were built in recognition of the vulnerability of their position with fire-retardant materials, the buildings set well back from tree lines.

Larry Wong/Postmedia News
Larry Wong/Postmedia News    A fire ravaged Beacon Hill neighbourhood in Fort McMurray on May 9, 2016.

Where urban settlements meet forests, homes fuel fires along with trees, brush, dead branches and any flammable debris lying on the forest floor. The homes should ideally be built with special attention to materials resistant to flames. And the civic authorities alongside homeowners should habitually collect detritus that fuel a fire and thin the canopies to enable firefighters to more effectively put out flames.

In British Columbia, some 650,000 hectares of B.C. forest has been identified as "very high" fuel hazard designations. Recommendations of long standing are to reduce the threat, but a mere ten percent of the areas have been attended to, with the removal of debris and the trees thinned out. All of this needs an investment of both manpower and financing. It takes between $5,000 and $10,000 a hectare to adequately 'treat' an area.

On the other hand, billions are lost in property and public infrastructure when wildfires occur. The emotional toll on people, their desperate escape from danger, their personal property losses, including the loss of employment when that too is impacted has its own steep price tag. Prevention is the key to ensure that such dreadful losses are minimized, denying nature the opportunity to send a wildfire sweeping through heedless communities.

A giant fireball burns as a wildfire rips through the forest south of Fort McMurray on May 7, 2016.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan HaywardA giant fireball burns as a wildfire rips through the forest south of Fort McMurray on May 7, 2016.

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