Wildfire in southern British Columbia

Each year, it seems that North West America, British Columbia and California, have strong wildfire even though these fire can happen in other countries. Maybe, in one of your next English LingQ podcasts, you could explain us what about the forest fire that occur currently nearby Vancouver? Is it something that happens often and what are the effects in the area?

Good idea Marianne! We’ll talk about that next time.

Great! Thanks Mark :slight_smile: I’m looking forward to hear you and Steve talk about this topic.

Hi Marianne and Mark,

There are a lot of wildfires right now and we’re still in the midst of a heatwave. Last night the town of Lilloet was evacuated (3000 people) and the fire is a kilometre from town. The wildfire front itself is 2 km long! Imagine 2 km of flaming forest 1 km from your home.

A friend of mine has headed up to help friends and they are working to wet everything down with water (lawns, roofs and brush) and cutting back debris near the house. My brother fought fire in Alberta and, listening to him, it really is like warfare. There’s an amazing song by James Keellaghan, “Cold Missouri Waters” about the Mann Gutch Fire.

Here’s link to youtube and the lyrics:
- YouTube

Cold Missouri Waters

(Words & music James Keelaghan)
My name is Dodge, but then you know that
It’s written on the chart there at the foot end of the bed
They think I’m blind, I can’t read it
I’ve read it every word, and every word it says is death
So, Confession - is that the reason that you came
Get it off my chest before I check out of the game
Since you mention it, well there’s thirteen things I’ll name
Thirteen crosses high above the cold Missouri waters

August 'Forty-Nine, north Montana
The hottest day on record, the forest tinder dry
Lightning strikes in the mountains
I was crew chief at the jump base, I prepared the boys to fly
Pick the drop zone, C-47 comes in low
Feel the tap upon your leg that tells you go
See the circle of the fire down below
Fifteen of us dropped above the cold Missouri waters

Gauged the fire, I’d seen bigger
So I ordered them to sidehill and we’d fight it from below
We’d have our backs to the river
We’d have it licked by morning even if we took it slow
But the fire crowned, jumped the valley just ahead
There was no way down, headed for the ridge instead
Too big to fight it, we’d have to fight that slope instead
Flames one step behind above the cold Missouri waters

Sky had turned red, smoke was boiling
Two hundred yards to safety, death was fifty yards behind
I don’t know why I just thought it
I struck a match to waist high grass running out of time
Tried to tell them, Step into this fire I set
We can’t make it, this is the only chance you’ll get
But they cursed me, ran for the rocks above instead
I lay face down and prayed above the cold Missouri waters

And when I rose, like the phoenix
In that world reduced to ashes there were none but two survived
I stayed that night and one day after
Carried bodies to the river, wonder how I stayed alive
Thirteen stations of the cross to mark to their fall
I’ve had my say, I’ll confess to nothing more
I’ll join them now, because they left me long before
Thirteen crosses high above the cold Missouri waters
Thirteen crosses high above the cold Missouri shore

Wildfires are terrible and many people lose everything they have due to them. Thanks for sharing this song, Liz.

Like you said, Steve and Mark, fires are not restricted to California and British Columbia. That’s for sure.
Still Steve, as you said, we live with nature; there are fires… I agree with that except that we can’t be so restrictive. 9 times out of 10, fires are done by men activities! It can be done accidentally sometime but most of the time, it is voluntary. The facts that there were not a lot of rain the previous days or months, the fact that there is a favourable wind, and heat are sadly good opportunities to set fire; all of these conditions nurture the fires. As one can’t be restrictive, one can’t be generalizing as well but many fires would have been avoid if only nature was responsible.

Hi Marianne!

We were just listening to a forester on the radio this morning and he was giving a very interesting analysis of the reasons behind the fires. Most of the fires in BC now, and there are 7000 currently burning, are caused by lightning. During a heat wave there are more electric storms, hence more lightening and more fire. A thousand years ago, or even 200 years ago, BC was covered in forest and there were as many fires.

However, the severity and intensity of the fires have increased. There is a lot of talk in the media here about deadwood in the forests. The forests are tinderboxes and there is a lot of brush and treefall on the forest floor. For thousands of years, natural periodic fires caused by lightening would burn this brush off. In an old growth forest, one which has never been “harvested”, it is very common to find ancient trees with scorched and blackened cores, caused by a forest fire which the tree has survived. In the past 200 years, our forests have been transformed. No longer are there a variety of ages and sizes of trees. The practice of clearcutting and replanting our forests has created millions of hectares of forest plantations. These trees, now up to 100 years old, are all the same size, species and shape. They have created a dense canopy through which no light can pass, so that young trees cannot grow beneath them. The underbrush of acculumated broken branches, tree fall etc lies on the forest floor. Driving by these forests (and there are thousands of kilometres of highway lined with these trees) is akin to driving past a plantation of giant cocktail toothpicks with a fluffy pompom on the top.

These forests burn hotter and more quickly than the older forests. When lightening strikes here, the tops burst into flame. The fire jumps and blazes from treetop to treetop. The kindling dry layer of debris on the forest floor ignites. These fires burn hot, travel quickly and are very, very difficult to fight. Today, the forestry companies no longer replant monoculture forests, however, with the ongoing practice of clearcutting, forests are still uniform in size and age, despite a greater variety of species.

Another factor contributing to the flammability of our forests is the devasting effect of the spruce bud worm. Since it arrived from Asia, a few decades ago, the spruce bug worm has destroyed thousands of acres of forest. These once green forests stood red, their needles ravaged by the insects. Some of this wood can be milled for lumber, but much of it is lost. In Northern BC, the mountains are no longer green, but red and communities are dying due to the destruction of the forestry industry there. The forest monoculture are also more vulnerable to the spread of disease and pests. Hundreds of Canadian scientists and foresters are working to prevent the spread of the budworm, but its destruction has almost reached the Alberta border. This bug has cost Canadians billions of dollars.

Prevention of forest fires is an expensive and enormous task. BC is a huge place (4 Frances maybe?) There are not very many people. There are millions of trees. Urban centres are growing closer to the cities and may have some funds to do preventive forest fire management. The more isolated communities, which are closest to the wildfires now, are forestry towns, mining towns and First Nations communities. The effect on First Nations communities is especially damning as they face poverty, overcrowding and lack of control over surrounding lands. Although some Nations have entered into forestry and gained control over forest management, their jurisdiction is minor compared to that of the forestry companies. Global trends affect the forests and no one works in isolation.

Around Lillooet where the fires are intense, the hillsides are

Just a comment from someone in the forest industry - me.

The fires are tragic for people who live in the area.

BC was covered in forests hundreds of years ago and still is. One source of information. http://tinyurl.com/m9np9l

The fires are taking place in the Interior and not on the coast. The coast has uneven age stands and that is where the thick barked “grandads” which survived previous forest fires are to be found.

Interior pine areas are the ones mostly affected. Heavy pine areas usually grows back into heavy pine areas after a forest fire. That is natural. There are vast areas of even aged pine trees 30, 50 or 100 years old. These grew where there was a forest fire, 30, 50, or 70 years ago. There is practically no logging of second growth trees in the interior since the vast majority of the forest are the original forests. Great areas of forest are not included in the “working forest” and set aside for other uses. Less than 1% of the “working forest” is harvested each year.

Our sawmill is in Northern Alberta and the dominant species is spruce. The forests there are also even aged fire origin. There has not been much logging there until recently. Fires have always taken place.

There is no spruce bud worm epidemic. There is a pine beetle epidemic. It is a factor in making forests drier and more susceptible to fire.

I think that if you lose your home, it does not really much matter if you are an aboriginal or not. It is pretty devastating!

Thanks for the insider scoop Steve. I was really captured by what was a fascinating interview on the radio this morning and I was trying to remember the facts (eg. the pine beetle et al.) As you can see by my ending, other things -like 5 year olds pulled me away.