We Are All On Fire

As I looked out on the smoke filled sky I felt a sadness I have never felt before. The sun had been blocked out for months and there was no end in sight. The world is changing, my idea of summer is no longer what it was when I was a child. There are no more blue skies to enjoy, but instead an endless haze that fills the air and our lungs. British Columbia was in a state of emergency for most of the summer due to the sheer amount of fires burning across the province. And it wasn’t just BC, all over the Western United States forests and grasslands were on fire. We all shared in this tragedy and we all lost vital habitat for fisheries and other important wildlife in our ecosystems. Some of this was the cause of mother nature’s wrath and some by the carelessness of humans.

During 2018 in British Columbia there were 2,092 individual fires and a total of 1,353,833 hectares(a metric unit of square measure, equal to 100 ares) of land and forest burned. 438 of those fires were right in my backyard as far as BC goes and one even made us change our camping trip due to a closure. My brother had a fire burning less than 25km from his house and was put on evacuation notice the day we drove home from our camping trip. During that drive home I ended up driving directly through an active forest fire on the Kootenay Pass. Luckily it was reasonably contained at that point with active crews working directly on the highway as I drove through. It was pretty surreal seeing the flames on the hill side and the smoldering ashes right beside the highway as I made my way home. Nothing got significantly close to my hometown this past year, but the fires were never that far away.

The fires didn’t keep us away from fishing though, it’s in our blood. I caught up with Jake (@Troutmadness) this season and we ventured into the back country to a river none of us had seen before. I guess it was always a possibility given the area we live in, but for some reason I wasn’t prepared to drive through the aftermath of a forest fire. A river that had always been hidden from the forest service road was now in plain sight as we stared through the blackened toothpick forest. You could see ever bend, every pool and run. These features had always been long hidden behind a hike through the dense forest and many people would never see them. Eventually the forest will bounce back, but it will take some time and it was a little saddening to see it all burned to the ground.

Aside from our early season adventures every one of our days on the water was spend under smokey skies. I think back to my childhood growing up in BC and all I can remember is bright blue summer skies and the odd thunderstorm rolling through. Outside of the past 5 years I can personally only recall one year there was a significant fire near by, but it was the kind where you were sweeping off your car like on a cold winter’s day. Is this now the norm, is this what my son will grow up knowing as summer? Just spending small periods of time outside to combat the air quality.

In 2007 there were a total of 1,606 wildfires in BC with a total of 29,440 hectares burned and 666 (42.8%) of them caused by humans. Let’s then look at 2012 where there were 1,649 wildfires, but a total of 102,122 hectares burned. 708 (42.9%) were caused by humans. Finally we will look at 2017. There were actually less fires at 1,353, but a total of 1,216,053 hectares burned. Yes, that is correct – the area burned jumped by over one million in 5 years of fires. Of those 1,216,053 hectares burned humans were the cause of 552 (40.8%) fires. Now I am no environmental scientist, but something changed significantly over the past 10 years for sure. My personal experience from being outside so much over the past 10 years is it’s just getting dryer and dryer every year. We are no longer seeing the precipitation that we once saw. I can recall so many nights of sitting in the porch on my mom’s house watching thunderstorms roll through like crazy, but they never came with a crazy fire. Of course there was the odd small fire here and there, but the back country was not a dry as it was now and they were easily dealt with.

I don’t have any answers to these problems, but I wanted to bring attention to them. It’s fairly clear that we could be reducing the amount of fires just by doing our part as humans on this earth. Too many of them are caused by our negligence and this simply needs to stop. I have accepted the fact that we just can’t have camp fires anymore even though I think it really sucks. Growing up camping a fire was a integral part of the experience and something I have only been able to share with my son a few times now.  I will continue to do what I can to prevent the devastation of wildfires and I hope you will do yours.