If there’s such a thing as a warning shot across the bow for wildfire season, the recent grass fire down Beddis Road must certainly qualify.
Although neighbours smelled smoke in time to alert firefighters — itself no small miracle, given how well we could smell the multiple blazes already in progress on Vancouver Island — any fire that literally hid underground for days should give islanders something to think about. And when coupled with the fact that there hasn’t been a drop of moisture since, it comes as little surprise that Salt Spring’s fire danger level shifted to “extreme” on Monday.
We’re not alone. On all the Gulf Islands, Vancouver Island, the mainland and indeed across the country, Natural Resources Canada is projecting a higher-than-normal level of fire activity this summer — a broad stroke of “well-above-average-red” all the way from from British Columbia into western Québec. During July, according to the models, severe wildfire potential will likely expand into the Yukon.
Salt Spring Assistant Fire Chief Mitchell Sherrin said a lot of islanders think fire officials just “spin a dial and decide how bad it is,” not realizing how complex — and how often imitated — Canada’s fire weather projecting actually is. Predictions come from various agencies — including the Canadian Seasonal to Inter-annual Prediction System (CanSIPS), itself a powerhouse of data and 3-D modelling — feeding in atmospheric and oceanic variables from temperature and wind to sea ice and soil moisture to create a forecast.
Sherrin said Canada’s system has been copied by other countries because of how accurately it predicts the likelihood of fire ignition, and the speed that fire might spread. We could also, with some care, be examples to the world of how to successfully navigate a dangerous fire season.
Apart from avoiding carelessness, information is key. A webinar on Salt Spring Island’s Community Wildfire Resiliency Plan is still available on the CRDVictoria YouTube channel; the plan itself and a wealth of other fire safety information is available at crd.bc.ca/ssi-emergency. And of course Salt Spring Island Fire Rescue has FireSmart and current fire conditions information on its website, saltspringfire.com.
And until we get the rain, let’s mind every spark and ember.