My inquiry question is: How should government funding be used for the prevention of wildfires?
In my last round of research, I delved into Canada’s history of wildfires, especially in British Columbia. I looked into the worst wildfire seasons and what made them so devastating, the impact on people, the cost of suppressing them, and what kinds of things contributed to these wildfires. This week, I am concluding all of my research. I will analyze government spending on the prevention and management of wildfires, particularly in British Columbia, and how successful it has been and if they are planning to spend enough. I will base this on the things that have been most negatively affected by wildfires and need support, what strategies have been used and how successful those strategies have been to prevent and suppress wildfires. I’m going to be reviewing some of the things affected by wildfires, but I won’t be going into a whole lot of detail about what those effects are exactly. If you’d like to know more, you can go back to my first few rounds of research on these topics. I will also be providing my own opinions throughout my research, and you can feel free to comment your own thoughts too.
As I’ve discussed in my previous rounds of research, wildfires have many diverse effects on the planet. Wildfires affect:
- Ecosystems/wildlife (positively and negatively) (1, 2, 3)
- Soil and water quality (4)
- Climate change (5, 6, 7)
- Human health, lives (8, 9) and homes (10, 11)
I think that all of these aspects are extremely important, and if wildfires can be managed better, we can limit the negative effects they face because of uncontrolled fires.
Wildfires happen naturally, but only 10% of wildfires are due to natural causes (7). Some natural causes of wildfires are:
- Lightning (5, 7)
- Volcanoes (5, 7)
The other 90% of wildfires are man-made. (5, 7) Some examples of human causes of wildfires are:
- Unattended campfires (5, 7)
- Cigarettes (5, 7)
- Fireworks (5, 7)
- Burning debris (5, 7)
- Engine sparks (5, 7)
- Arsonists (people who intentionally set fires) (5, 7)
The Fire Triangle
One major factor in the intensity of a wildfire and how fast is spreads is the fuel load. Small fuel loads will burn less quickly and not as intensely, whereas a large fuel load will make the fire burn more quickly and with more intensity. (12, 13)
In order for a wildfire to burn, there must be three components present: fuel, heat and oxygen (14, 15).
To fight wildfires, firefighters will deprive the fire of one of these elements of the “fire triangle”. (14)
Traditional methods of fighting fires are water dousing and extinguishing them by spraying fire retardants (14). Another method to fight wildfires is to clear vegetation. It prevents an over-accumulation of fuels, reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfires. Moreover, they can do this through controlled burning. “Prescribed fires” are managed fires that clear out undergrowth, brush and ground litter, limiting the amount of fuels for a possible future, uncontrolled wildfire (15, 16).
Budget increase in BC
In response to the increased wildfire activity lately, the government of British Columbia has increased their 2019 budget to provide money for disaster responses. The wildfire response funding went up to 101 million dollars annually (17, 18, 19), a 58 percent increase (18, 19) from the previous 64 million dollar budget (17).
The extra funding is to be used for aiding the B.C. Wildfire Service with their fire response capabilities, to help lower the risks of wildfires in affected communities and to pay for additional crews and equipment (18).
However, much more has been spent each wildfire season for the past several years, surpassing British Columbia’s budget. During the devastating 2017 wildfire season, British Columbia spent over 649 million dollars, (17, 19) which is over six times the budget for this year (19).
I believe that if the government is almost certainly going to be spending much more than that (based on what has been spent in the past several years), they had may as well raise their budget further. Of course, there is a limit as to how much money can be spent towards one cause, but it is also a very important cause that needs a lot of attention in light of climate change and the increasingly devastating effects these wildfires are having on our planet and wildlife and us. I think BC is taking the right step in raising their budget for fighting wildfires, but I also think that more needs to be done to prevent devastating wildfires from happening in the first place by better management of fuels for example.
Fortunately, communities are beginning to take action by making their houses fire smart, thinning groups of trees that might be a problem should a fire come near, and in some cases, they are even replacing trees with other species that are not as flammable. However, forestry companies still pose a problem. When the companies are doing timber harvest planning, they are thinking about the cheapest ways in which they can obtain the largest amount of wood for their mill while still following environmental guidelines. They are not necessarily thinking about how they could get wood but also lower the flammability of the landscape at the same time. If the companies could clear roads to get to the trees they want to harvest not simply based on the most direct route but based on how a fire could spread as well, those roads could act like “fuel breaks” (20).
Because there are so many wildfires that are cause by humans, there are also so many wildfires that could be prevented. In my opinion, there should be more programs and education on wildfires, including their impact on our world and society and how each individual can prevent them.
Some advice to preventing the start of a wildfire are:
- Call 911/ your local fire department if you see a fire that is unattended or out of control.
- Be careful with fueling lanterns, stoves and heaters when you are camping. Ensure that all lighting and heating devices are cool before you refuel them, avoid spilling any flammable liquids and keep fuels away from appliances.
- Do not get rid of cigarettes, matches or any smoking materials from moving vehicles or anywhere on the ground, and make sure that cigarettes are completely extinguished before discarded them.
- Do not burn yard waste when it is windy, and have a shovel, water and fire retardant close by.
And that concludes the cycle and my research on this topic! Thanks for reading!