Book signing to follow the presentation, hosted by Wildsight Invermere
By Chadd Cawson Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Amidst wildfire season, temperatures continue to rise with increasing frequency as fires burn bigger, brighter, and hotter while climate change happens around the world.
As a result, research and predictions tell us that by the end of this century wildfire activity will be doubled. As a part of the Fire & Ice Series, Wildsight presents The Future of Fire with renowned author, educator, and public speaker Ed Struzik, at the Columbia Valley Centre on Sept. 17 at 7 p.m.
Struzik will talk about his book Dark Days at Noon: The Future of Fire. He’ll discuss the many mistakes that have been made in the managing of fire in the past and what can be done better going forward to mitigate the damage, and how to use fire in some cases, to our advantage. Struzik is no stranger to bearing witness to this damage first-hand.
“I have seen many forest fires from a distance on canoe and hiking trips. One fire that stood out was one that burned a good part of Kootenay National Park in 2003, just a few weeks before 45,000 people in the Okanagan were forced to evacuate because of another fire,” said Struzik. “I got a chance to get up close to that one in Kootenay with firefighters and fire specialists from Parks Canada. I had never seen anything like it. It was like a slow-moving freight train that almost made it into Banff where the old-growth forest went on forever. The town of Banff may have burned down in the height of the tourism season if the fire had spread into Banff. At times, the fire had its own mind, doing whatever it wanted to do, passing through natural fireguards without even slowing down.
“I remember Rob Walker, the fire and vegetation specialist for Parks Canada, telling me that this fire was a harbinger of future fires in a warming world. He was right, of course. But many people didn’t get it at the time. And still don’t.”
Events for Wildsight’s Fire & Ice series were designed with our community and geography in mind. Struzik’s eighth book Dark Days at Noon: The Future of Fire was a perfect fit.
“The book and its message are very relevant to the Columbia Valley,” said Lianna Ferguson, program co-ordinator at Wildsight Invermere. “This valley is no stranger to wildfires. As the book synopsis says, as people continue to move into forested landscapes to work, play, live, and ignite fires – intentionally or unintentionally – fire has begun to take its toll, burning entire towns, knocking out utilities, closing roads, and forcing the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people.”
Conducting the research for Dark Days at Noon was not for the faint of heart. Part of it entailed Struzik reading thousands of newspaper articles that had been published between 1870 and 2021. There have been many accounts of destruction and the displacement of people across the U.S. and Canada from 1870 to the early 1900s, including a forest fire that burned down the town of Fernie in 1908, which hits a little closer to home.
“I was surprised by the large number of fires that burned so many towns and killed so many people on both sides of the border. I was amazed that many of these very destructive fires never made it into the history books,” said Struzik. “Deadly fires were a lot more common than I imagined. I wondered why and this is what I try to explain it in the book.”
Dark Days at Noon warns of what may happen in the future if we do not learn to live with fire as the continent’s Indigenous Peoples once did. Struzik writes an entire chapter that deals with Indigenous burning.
“Interestingly, it was David Thompson who first recognized that indigenous people burned so that new grass would grow and attract bison, and that root vegetables and berries thrived after a burn,” said Struzik. “Europeans refused to see the value in this light burning. They ended up kicking Indigenous people out of national parks and protected areas partly for that reason. The threat of severe deadly fires will grow as temperatures continue to rise. It’s simple. The good news is that there are a lot of things that we can do about. I’ll be talking about that in Invermere.”
The issues that multi award-winning author Struzik will be discussing are relevant to all residents that live on the unceded territories of the Secwépemc and Ktunaxa peoples and the land chosen as home by the Métis peoples in the Columbia Valley. Tickets for this event are $20 in advance or $25 at the door. To purchase your advance tickets visit wildsight.ca . For those that haven’t yet read the book, Four Points Books will be selling copies of it at the event on Sept. 17 with a book signing to follow.
“Our hope is that residents lean into this conversation instead of shy away,” said Ferguson. “Fire is going to be a yearly event as fire is a necessary part of our landscape. Due to mismanagement of our forests thus far, paired with a changing climate, it is important that we learn to live with it. We hope the more information and understanding people have about fire, the better they can prepare, and hopefully live with less fear.”