COLUMN: Taking control of wildfire situation

COLUMN: Taking control of wildfire situation

The wildfire situation in B.C. is as grim and desperate as it has ever been, and there could be problems with such fires in the Lower Mainland as well before the summer is complete.

Last year, there was a significant fire at Burns Bog in Delta. The fire broke out on July 3 and, for a time, threatened nearby industrial businesses at Tilbury Industrial Park, but a concerted effort by Delta Fire Department and other agencies kept the fire confined to the bog area itself.

It took eight days before it was extinguished.

There have been a number of fires at Burns Bog over the years, with one of the largest taking place in 2005. It is one of the largest forested areas south of the Fraser River. There are others, including Sunnyside Acres in South Surrey, Green Timbers in North Surrey, Watershed Park in North Delta and many smaller – but still significant – forested areas.

In recent years, local municipalities have put up many warning signs at this time of year. One such sign at the entrance to Green Timbers on Fraser Highway notes that the fire danger is high. That means something as small as a discarded cigarette could start a fire. And with dry conditions, it could easily spread.

It is important to follow the warnings. There should be no open fires of any kind, anywhere. Cigarettes need to be carefully extinguished and not tossed on the ground.

In the Cariboo and Thompson regions, forest fires have caused almost 40,000 people to leave their homes – some of which have been lost. Other buildings have also burned. Should any one of the fires burn down a forest products plant, jobs will likely disappear.

It is far too early to know just how much timber has been destroyed by fire, but it is a safe bet that the supply needed to feed those plants has been drastically reduced. Thus plants could close anyway, even if they remain standing.

A fire in this area would not have the same effect on employment, but any fire that spreads to commercial, industrial or residential areas would quickly do millions of dollars in damages. In addition, there is also a very real possibility of a loss of life if a fire gets out of control.

The Cloverdale Arena is one of two Lower Mainland facilities set up to help people who have been displaced by the wildfires, and thus far more than 300 people have used the services available there, and the arena is able to accommodate people overnight if necessary.

Many Surrey and White Rock residents have contributed to fire-relief efforts mounted by a number of businesses, or directly to the Canadian Red Cross which is administering disaster relief. Interestingly, many of those efforts have been mounted by B.C.-based companies that have deep connections to the province.

It is frustrating to many of us to hear about these fires but feel powerless to do anything. We can contribute to these funds, and can reach out and offer assistance to those affected. Government assistance can never take the place of caring family and friends.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News.