Judge rules lightning, not contractor’s equipment, started fire in British Columbia

Greer Fire
Greer Fire, June 22, 2010. Photo by B.C. Wildfire Service.

A British Columbia Supreme Court judge has ruled that the Greer Fire, a 2010 wildfire southeast of Vanderhoof, started from lightning, not a timber harvesting company’s feller buncher as claimed by the government. The Province sued two companies including Canfor, which then countersued, alleging that the B.C. government “did not take sufficient action to suppress or extinguish” the wildfire.

The fire burned 6,100 hectares (15,073 acres), required 30 households to evacuate, and cost $5.5 million including suppression, reforestation, and lost wood taxes.

Below are excerpts from an article at straight.com:

“Canfor has not established the Province’s conduct in fighting the Fire constituted a substantial departure from the basic principles of firefighting,” Greyall wrote in his decision.

According to the ruling, “a one-hour fire watch was not conducted as required”.

“The Province argues a fire watcher, properly conducting his or her duties under theRegulation, would have been able to utilize Barlow’s resources to extinguish or at least control the Fire on the afternoon of June 18 and to report it to the Ministry such that it would been actioned earlier and would not have spread,” Greyall wrote.

However, the judge concluded that the province failed to prove that the fire would have been discovered and reported “prior to the expiry of the fire watch period” had a fire watch taken place.

In court, the province maintained there was “strong circumstantial evidence” that the fire was started by the use of a fire buncher and that the operator failed to remain with his equipment after turning off the engine.

The province also claimed that “sawdust or other flammable forest debris” were dislodged from the machine into the forest floor, causing the fire.

The defendants pointed to lightning as the likely cause, with Barlow employees saying they saw a bolt during heavy rainfall around 5 p.m.

“I find the evidence of the Barlow and Canfor employees to be consistent and credible,” Greyall wrote. “The issue of lightning on the Cut Block was reported to Ministry investigators during the course of their investigation within days of the Fire.”

The article does not mention any physical evidence of a lightning-struck object or data from an electronic lightning detection system.

British Columbia firefighters beginning their wildfire season with the fitness test

British Columbia wildland fire personnel are coming back to work for the season and one of the first things Type 1 firefighters do is take the Canadian fitness test. The WFX-FIT, which first saw widespread use in 2012, is described as “a valid job-related physical performance standard used to determine whether an individual possesses the physical capabilities necessary to meet the rigorous demands encountered while fighting wildland fires.”

Canada firefigher fitness test

The components of the  WFX-FIT, after pre-participation screening are:

WFX-FIT circuits

Firefighters must complete all of the tasks within 14:20 or 17:15 minutes, depending on the province and the location (in or out of the province) of the assignment.

We wrote more about the Canadian fitness test last year.

Canada firefigher fitness test Canada firefigher fitness test

The photos were provided by the British Columbia Wildfire Service.

British Columbia using assisted migration to help forests keep up with climate change

range of Western Larch
The range of Western Larch, Larix occidentalis, sometimes called Western tamarack. From Natural Resources Canada.

Warming caused by climate change is moving the suitable habitat for some plant species farther north in the northern hemisphere. A plant that was once comfortable in one location may be finding it is becoming too warm for it to thrive.

British Columbia, unlike the other Canadian provinces, has changed their rules about replanting forests, hoping to ensure that adapted tree varieties can keep up with the moving habitats. Critics say assisted migration, as it is called, has sometimes produced disastrous results in the past when species were placed in new environments.

Western larch
Western Larch, a deciduous conifer. Photo from Montana Outdoors.

Vice’s Motherboard web site has a fascinating article by Stephen Buranyi on the subject. Here is an excerpt:


“The Western Larch can live for hundreds of years and grow to over 200 feet, but the oldest Larch trees in northern British Columbia’s Bulkley Valley are only about four feet tall. In fact, the nearest full grown Western Larch is nearly 900 kilometers south by the US border, which has been the Larch’s natural range for thousands of years. These are the first trees of their kind to be planted so far north.

If the disastrous history of invasive species has taught us anything, it’s that it’s often difficult to predict the consequences of such a change. Ecologists and conservationists generally caution against moving a species outside of the areas they naturally live—a process known as assisted migration—and governments generally agree with this take. Across North America there are strict prohibitions against the large scale movement of living populations.

But for the past seven years the province of BC has allowed millions of trees to be planted toward the northernmost reaches of their natural range and beyond. The government is working with scientists who predict that our climate is changing so quickly that, 50 years from now, when the trees are fully grown, the conditions in the trees’ new homes will actually be more like their old ones.

“It restores the tree to the environment for which they are best suited,” said Greg O’Neill, an adaptation and climate change scientist with the BC government, who helped design and implement the province’s assisted migration program. But while BC scientists think that they’ve acted just in time to prepare their forests for the future, no other province appears ready to adopt assisted migration as a strategy anytime soon.

Many trees are what ecologists call foundational species—organisms whose removal would cause enormous disruption in the ecosystem. Trees are a sort of infrastructure for forests; they bind the soil, retain water, and provide food and shelter. Just like the infrastructure unpinning cities, it takes years to establish a tree population, and they are virtually impossible to move.

And yet, because BC’s northern regions are warming at nearly twice the average rate, much of the province’s 55 million hectares of forest may find that their homes have moved north without them. A 2006 paper from the University of British Columbia applied a climate based model to forest ecosystems and showed that some species ranges could shift by up to 100 kilometers each decade.

Rules in BC require that, as trees are cut down, planters use seeds from the same area to re-plant, preserving the genetic character of the forest. O’Neill and his colleagues produced a forestry report in 2008 that drew on the projected range expansions due to climate change, and their own extensive experiments testing various tree species in different climates. They suggested that the province instead expand the distance seeds could be moved uphill, to track with global warming. Later that year the Chief Forester’s Standards for Seed Use were changed for the majority of BC’s commercial tree species to reflect the suggestions in the report.

According to O’Neill, “these were the first policy changes that addressed climate change in forestry.”

Then, in 2010 the standards were changed again, to allow Western Larch to be planted hundreds of kilometres away from its current range. “That had been a long-standing paradigm that no-one dared transgress,” said O’Neill. One ecologist had even called BC’s migration plans “a little scary.”

It’s difficult to overstate how deeply rooted the aversion to moving nature is for many biologists. In 2009 assisted migration was called “planned invasion” in a report that listed our really awful, truly just stupendously bad track record with species that unexpectedly turn invasive…”

Fallen Canadian firefighter receives posthumous medal

A father of three who died fighting a forest fire on British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast became the first recipient of the province’s Medal of Good Citizenship.

Premier Christy Clark said Tuesday that 60-year-old John Phare exemplifies the purpose of the new medal, which recognizes commendable contributions to community life.

The contract tree faller died last July while fighting the Old Sechelt Mine blaze.

Clark said Phare was one of thousands of firefighters who displayed courage and sacrifice during this year’s extensive and sometimes life-threatening forest fire season.

Phare’s fiancee, Kimi Hawkes, accepted the medal at a ceremony at the B.C. legislature.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Matt.

Westside Road Fire near Kelowna forces evacuations

(UPDATED at 6:48 p.m. PT, July 21, 2015)

Westside Road Fire 7-21-2015
Westside Road Fire, July 21, 2015. Photo by British Columbia Wildfire Service.

The British Columbia Wildfire Service reported at 3:02 p.m. on Tuesday that the Westside Road fire northwest of Kelowna has grown to 430 hectares (1,062 acres).


(Originally published at 12:06 p.m. PT, July 21, 2015; UPDATED at 1:28 p.m. PT, July 21, 2015)

Westside Road Fire
Westside Road Fire, July 21, 2015, as seen form the Arrowleaf Cellars vineyard. Photo by Wicked Wine Tours.

The Westside Road Fire on the west side of Okanagan Lake northwest of Kelowna, B.C. has forced the evacuation of approximately 70 homes as of

map West Side Rd Fire
The red and brown squares represent the location of the West Side Rd Fire at 12:45 p.m. July 21, 2015.

Tuesday at 8 a.m. The fire became more active on Monday, growing to 300 hectares (741 acres).

Overnight on Monday crews were able to prevent any loss of structures in the Shelter Cove area, in spite of downslope winds and aggressive fire behavior. Firefighters are working to protect power poles and extinguish spot fires in the subdivision.

The fire is currently burning at Rank 4 (highly vigorous surface fire, torching or passive crown fire).

Tuesday morning 23 firefighters were assigned to the fire. They expect to receive help later in the day from two helicopters, two 20-person crews, and water-scooping air tankers. (UPDATE from the BCWS at 1:16 p.m. on Tuesday: there are currently 19 firefighters and 4 air tankers on scene. There is no word about additional fire resources en route.)

In July of 2009 two fires broke out on the west side of Okanagan Lake that required the evacuation of 12,500 people. (Map of the location of the fires.)

Now near West Kelowna. Aggressive #wildfire RT @CUrquhartGlobal: Fire fighters rush to save house @GlobalBC @bc1 pic.twitter.com/2sJUt3ff6E

Be prepared for fires and other emergencies

Firesmart wildfire

Our friends at Prepared BC in British Columbia put together this graphic about about preparing your home to resist a wildfire.

And, when disaster hits, there may not be time to collect emergency supplies. Ensure you have grab-and-go kits for your home, office and vehicle. They should all contain water and supplies for a minimum of 72 hours.

Earthquake Tsunami Kit