By CARMITA DE MENYHART
In 2006, Galiano Island experienced the biggest wildfire in modern history on the Gulf Islands.
Sixty-one hectares of the 126-hectare Galiano Community Forest were burnt. The fire came dangerously close to hydro transmission lines, and many people were evacuated. There was even talk of evacuating the entire island.
The fire was caused by human carelessness, but there were many contributing factors: extremely hot weather, strong outflow winds and an abundance of ground fuel.
A 30-year resident of Galiano recently commented: “I was evacuated during the 2006 wildfire and still suffer PTSD as a result. I have witnessed first-hand the increasing fire hazard due to climate change. A wildfire today would travel much farther and faster than it did in 2006.”
Galiano’s Community Forest is now being proposed as the location of an affordable housing/marketplace development. Yet, this forest, which experienced a devastating wildfire in 2006, has “high-intensity wildfire conditions,” according to community forest management plans done in 2008 and 2020.
There are specific conditions that make the Community Forest a particularly dangerous site for this kind of human incursion. An arborist who lives nearby, wrote: “The Community Forest is what woodland firefighters call a ‘jackpot.’ Most of the area is thickly covered with dead cedars, grass, mature Scotch Broom, and dense third-growth conifers. There is also a heavy ground fuel load that combines with the layered brush canopy to create a volatile mix that would encourage several distinct types of fire behaviour. The grass creates a ground fire, the piles of dead cedar create durable fuel loads and the dense conifers can create crown fires, which are fast moving and extremely dangerous.
“Besides the fire danger rating, two other major factors are slope and wind. The Community Forest is on a substantial slope. Making the matter worse is that sunny and hot weather in this micro-climate is often associated with outflow winds, which are generally from the northeast and almost directly uphill. Dense vegetation, slope, and confluent wind conditions create the perfect conditions for extreme fire behaviour. Building numerous housing units in the middle of this ‘jackpot’ would add an undue amount of risk to an already tenuous situation.”
Up to 48 future tenants could be in danger, this project could go up in flames, adjacent properties could be destroyed, and great ecological damage could be done.
People living close to the Community Forest have sent letters to various agencies warning of the fire risk and asking for a wildfire hazard assessment by a qualified forester. It is the responsibility of the Galiano Island Local Trust Committee to ask for an assessment, but no decision has yet been made.
Why aren’t the elected officials responsible for giving approval striving to obtain the most accurate data? Why do they appear to be uninterested in knowing the wildfire risk in the Community Forest?
As I look out my window at Galiano’s browning fir trees and crackling dry undergrowth, I hope that common sense will prevail.