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Local fire ecologist stresses importance of prescribed burns

A local fire ecologist says more prescribed burns are needed to reduce the devastating impacts of wildfires in the region.

Bob Gray of R.W. Gray Consulting Ltd has over 35 years of experience in the research and application of fire science and has been instrumental in some of the region’s burns.

“We can expect what just happened and worse in the future,” he said.

“Most of the modelling suggests that we could see a doubling or tripling of area burned in the future. The best way to mitigate impacts is to limit the potential size and severity of these fires. Part of that is mimicking the stewardship practices of indigenous peoples. The landscape they stewarded didn’t support these kinds of fires.”

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A recent burn he was a part of was the airport burn done in the spring.

“Our team conducted a prescribed burn at the Canadian Rockies International Airport, 80 hectares, and that was intended to be the west flank guard for the 1,200-hectare airport pasture burn in ʔaq̓am,” Gray said.

“A total of 1,300 hectares were treated in about three days in April.

He says the work they did prevented a much larger disaster.

“In July of this year as we all know there was a very horrible wildfire that ran through ʔaq̓am reserve.”

“The burn we did in the springtime stopped it,” he added.

“Talking to BC Wildfire colleagues, they felt that it probably would have taken out the airport plus 80-100 homes and it could have made a run towards Marysville. If we lost the airport we would have lost not only the fueling base for the medium helicopters but also the tanker base. That would have meant cycle times from Castlegar which are over an hour and a half for air tankers and two hours for a helicopter.”

He says we need to learn from this and start getting these burns done quickly.

“The lesson from this example is that we didn’t treat enough and it took 10 years of planning to get that 1,200 hectares ready to be burned. We have to do a better job of getting prepared for that.”



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