The current wildfire situation in British Columbia, and indeed that of many recent active years, should result in sober reflections as to the efficiency of wildfire control. Practical and responsible action is based on two criteria — early detection and fast initial attack, both of which are presently questionable.
In respect to detection, aerial patrols are used almost exclusively and while they have the capability of covering large areas, they have the vulnerability of missing small smoldering fires which are not evident. It would therefore appear logical to activate existing lookouts in high or extreme hazard supplemented by ground patrols, and that this latter agency have the discretion of fast initial attack on accessible incidents.
Regarding initial attack, one should reflect on the following enumerated points:
1. Why are industry and contact crews considered ineligible to conduct initial attack when the essence of control action is rapid response?
2. In the case of a woodlot licensee or operator in occupation, it is required that action be taken on a wildfire within one kilometer of the designated boundary. Why not two kilometers or more if the fire is accessible and posses an immediate threat whereby a substantial loss might be prevented?
3. To improve initial attack it would seem logical that resident rural crews of three or more persons be organized at the start of each fire season. This would be comparable to the very practical fire warden crews operating in the earlier years. The present dispatch of crews by the fire centres is too cumbersome and detracts from initial attack time. Additionally, priorities can change on very short notice so flexibility and initiative are critical.
4. It appears evident that the wildfire branch offers the issue of liability as a reason to exclude contract crews from independent initial attack. One must however speculate on the increased liability associated with a major incident relative to that encountered on a small fire.
Woodlot licensees and other forest operators with their exposure to wildfire situations must be on the front line to offer critical observation to improve control actions. This is particularly important to those holding area based forest tenures as opposed to volume-based systems. To sit by and submit to bureaucratic ideology is irresponsible and, unless some procedures are modified, losses to our licensees and the forest resource with related values will continue.
George .L. Bennwell Sr.
Note: George Benwell Sr. is a forester with more than 60 years experience in the industry.