Columbia Valley Pioneer staff

Assessing potential wildfire movement and determining the best mitigation actions to reduce the risk was a big plate that a consultant served to the Regional District of East Kootenay last week.

Robert Gray from R.W. Gray Consulting Ltd. presented a PowerPoint at the board’s Nov. 10 meeting touching on how to limit the size and severity of wildfires in the region.

Gray painted a bleak picture of what the future holds, telling board members to expect wildfires to burn much more land as the climate warms – possibly double or triple the current average. He noted that natural resources such as wildlife habitat, fisheries, timber and water quality will be significantly affected.

“Effects on human health due to evacuations and smoke will be significant,” Gray said in his report.

Gray said the best way to mitigate the impacts is to limit the potential size and severity of these wildfires by mimicking the stewardship practices of Indigenous Peoples, especially through cultural fire and moving aggressively on large-scale eco-culture restoration before it’s too late.

The consultant noted the landscape of pre-settler colonial B.C. was immune to frequent, large, high-severity fires.

Gray recommends a multi-stage approach, with the final stage being to draft a 10-year wildfire risk reduction plan.

The consultant spoke about fences and corridors, saying the more fences there are on the landscape, the slower the fire spreads. He added that corridors can funnel or direct fires through landscapes.

Gray said the current landscape is covered by continuous fuels, and when conditions are conducive to fire spread, there are very few natural barriers to impede or slow fire progression. 

He noted the desired future condition is a landscape that supports a mosaic of stand conditions so that fuel continuity is disrupted. He indicated that fire behaviour changes as it moves through different stand types, encountering natural barriers to lessen or stop fire growth.

What does all this mean to RDEK communities?

Gray said model results will help determine probable pathways for fire spread toward communities. Therefore, it is important to identify opportunities to block or slow down fire away from these communities.

The consultant noted there are numerous treatments underway in the region including thinning and prescribed burning to mitigate fire size and severity.