Although he’s got an updated look, everyone still recognizes Smokey the Bear, the mascot of forest fire prevention for over 70 years. He may be old, but wildfires are becoming a growing concern, especially here in the Pacific Northwest and interior BC. We are blessed with an abundance of forests and long, hot, dry summers; so we should all learn what we can about how to avoid contributing to the risks of a forest fire.
There are two main causes of forest fires: dry lightning strikes (lightning storms without associated rain) and human activity. Lightning-caused wildfires tend to be less frequent than human-caused ones, but often cover a greater area. These “natural” fires are generally in remote areas, and they are typically monitored but often left alone unless they threaten human lives. They can sometimes be beneficial as well, as regular small fires clear out accumulated dead and dry trees and plants. If too much dead and dry material builds up, it can lead to a much larger and harder-to-control fire.
Human-caused wildfires, however, are always suppressed. These fires are more frequent than natural fires and tend to be near towns and settlements, making fighting them a priority. For an example of how devastating human-caused fires can be, we don’t have to look very far – British Columbia is currently experiencing one of its worst forest fire seasons ever, with a state of emergency declared as approximately 44,000 residents have been forced to evacuate. It’s estimated there are at least 150 fires currently burning, with over half of these being man-made, and all campfires are banned throughout the province.
We’ve been a lot luckier here in Washington State, with only a few isolated fires so far this year. And in order to keep it that way, we’ve put together a few tips on how to keep our environment and communities safe:
- Know how, where and when to obtain a burn permit. All types of burns in Point Roberts require a permit.
- For residents that live near woods or fields with dry material, consider using fire-resistant plants and landscaping near the edge of your property.
- Make sure your BBQ grill is at least 10 ft clear of any combustible structures or materials, notably dry grass and branches.
- Know what the current wildfire danger level is where you are, and what restrictions are currently in place.
- Read up on how to properly pick a campfire spot, start a fire, maintain it and extinguish it.
- If you’re an educator or parent, teach children about fire safety. A number of fires are caused by children who are curious or unaware of proper fire safety practices.
- Make sure to check your vehicle and ensure that no chains or metal parts are dragging. At least two fires in BC are thought to have been caused by metal parts dragging underneath vehicles and then sending off sparks.
Remember, just as Smokey says, “Only you can prevent wildfires.”
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