Over the past number of years, British Columbia and other western provinces have experienced a number of serious wildfires that have caused considerable damage and losses to community infrastructure and the forest resource. There appears to be a tendency to blame this situation on global warming, which is highly subjective, however one must reflect on deeper issues.
The recent disaster in Fort McMurray is a classic example and may well foretell future occurrences of a similar nature. To date, and to my knowledge, there has been no information released regarding initial action on this incident other than it was reported at 4 p.m. in the afternoon.
To this one should offer the following observations:
1. Knowing the starting point of the incident, what control agency was responsible for initial attack?
2. What was the time interval between reporting and initial action on the incident by the responsible agency? This is critical!
3. Was the initial attack aerial or ground and, if aerial, how soon was ground action subsequently undertaken?
Efficient wildfire control is contingent on two criteria: early detection and fast initial attack. Undoubtedly there are conditions that occur where fires sustain a rapid development which will defy quick suppression action.
However, despite the massive resources and technology currently available, it is apparent that we are encountering far too many large incidents in comparison to earlier years. This must logically lead to the conclusion that there are substantial problems of a broad nature within the current wildfire control system.
This default is not apparent to the majority of the general public who are uninformed concerning effective wildfire control, but is patently evident to knowledgeable forest industry personnel.
A critical and exacting review of current wildfire control policies and procedures by an independent and objective panel is critically necessary otherwise further negative impacts to communities and our valuable forest resource will continue.
George L. Benwell
B.C. Forest Ranger, 1963-1979