Wildfire and Community Risk

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Wildfire is common in most parts of the world except for the far north and far south where there is no vegetation.  Wildfire can be supported by any vegetation that will burn.  Television often shows clips of notable fires and it does a good job of demonstrating that wildfire may take place anywhere there is vegetation that will burn.

The vegetation could be volunteer meaning that humans did not plant it; it simply grew by itself.   Or it could be cultivated vegetation as in a park or a farm.  The vegetation can be in the form of mature or maturing forests that sometimes have very high economic value.  Mixed forests (broad leaf trees and trees with needles) support wildlife and domestic animals, they can stop erosion, act as a windbreak or simply be pleasing visually.  Nevertheless the potential is there to present a risk to communities in terms of wildfire during hot dry weather.  Conifer trees, those trees that grow seed cones are much more flammable than broadleaf trees and shrubs.

It is generally recognized that the removal of the conifers is a major mitigation step in terms of community wildfire. Sometimes trees around communities are not commercially valuable but community members treasure them for their esthetic values.  The result is that quite a few communities are threatened not by valuable mature trees but instead by young immature trees that may have little or no commercial value.  So for these communities if wildfire mitigation takes place, the removal of conifers and planting of broadleaf trees could be at considerable financial cost. The cost is a very serious impediment to wildfire mitigation.  Nevertheless, the cost to mitigate could be turned into an economic benefit with a little massaging of the BC Forestry Act and a bit of entrepreneurial innovation.

This can be a problem; the same people who assess risk are the same who pay the bill for mitigation. Therefore it is not unreasonable to suppose that there could be a proclivity to underestimate risk in order to live within a limited budget. On any given winter day there is not wildfire risk.  On a hot dry sunny day, particularly if there has been no precipitation for some time chances are that the risk will be very high.  So risk is an element in motion, it can change quite quickly in intensity.  When evaluators who designate wildfire risk as a static value, like high risk or low risk it can only be for a specific time period.  Risk of wildfire is a component in motion.  Temperature, humidity, dew point, last precipitation and ground moisture among others comprise the influential factors governing risk.  To illustrate; if we say that an aircraft has only a 1% risk of crashing that would mean that one hour out of a hundred hours could be potentially fatal.  This kind of risk in not acceptable.  So if there is a hot dry spell with cumulonimbus activity (thunder storms) for 6 weeks that would mean that the community would be at risk for 11% of the time in one year.  Is this an acceptable wildfire risk and if it is not how do we innovate to reduce the risk?

2 Comments

  1. Hi there i am kavin, its my first occasion to commenting anywhere, when i read this paragraph
    i thought i could also create comment due to this sensible article.

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    • Thank you very much wildfire is serious business and somehow when people live close to forest land they get used to the beauty of it all and tend to forget the risk. Also the risk is so variable and only present at certain limited times:)
      Fredericxk

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