Bob Gray says B.C. spends a small fraction of what it should on wildfire prevention. Photo submitted

Bob Gray says B.C. spends a small fraction of what it should on wildfire prevention. Photo submitted

More planned forest fires needed: wildfire expert

Bob Gray is one of the speakers at a Nelson conference about climate change and wildfire

Bob Gray thinks we need more forest fires in B.C. – fires that are prescribed, planned, and large.

“That’s the only way to create barriers to wildfires,” he said in an interview with the Star last week. He said up to 40 per cent of B.C.’s forests should be barriers to wildfires, not fuel for them.

He says whenever we harvest, the harvest area should then be burned.

“Now a lot of our harvests, they do not function as fire breaks. They speed up the fire. We harvest and we don’t treat the slash. Everything we do out there does not impede fire flow.”

Gray will present these and other ideas at Wildfire and Climate Change, a conference running Tuesday through Thursday this week in Nelson, featuring a variety of local and international speakers from government, industry and academia. He is a fire ecologist and the president of R.W. Gray Consulting Ltd. in Chilliwack.

“In the past,” he said, referring to the time before governments started aggressively suppressing forest fires, “an area that burned in a wildfire would possibly re-burn again once the trees came down and you would have this sort of fuel free situation. And then a forest grows into that, and it functions as a barrier for a long period of time.”

How does he know it happened this way?

“We have old historic aerial photographs and fire history studies using dendochronology (tree ring dating) to determine past fire activity. We actually can develop a good idea of what happened and we run that through simulation models and we calibrate it, and then we can start to simulate those patterns, and then apply future management scenarios to it.”

He said a lot can be discovered through these methods.

“We can look at past fires to see what burned in the perimeter and what burned the hottest and what has not burned at all, and we look for certain patterns and characteristics and we see stands that burned twice and survived wildfire because there is no surface fuel.”

Fires in the past weren’t as big as they often are today, he said.

“We did not have these 500,000 hectare fires, at least not very often, and so we are trying to see what that pattern and process was on the landscape, and what were those stand types were that functioned as barriers to fire and how can we recreate those practices.”

He said B.C. needs burning programs that have long term dedicated funding, not small short-term projects.

“We need programs situated in each fire zone with a combination of wildfire service crews and industry people — we need to have people trained up and qualified. You give them five years worth of funding and you make a schedule, what you are going to burn every year, and you have plans written out ahead of time and review and retrain. It is like a fire department.”

Gray is also known for his opinions about B.C.’s funding for wildfire prevention versus earthquake preparation.

He says over the past 10 years fighting wildfires in B.C. has cost tens of billions of dollars, yet governments have invested about $100 million in mitigation. He says the ratio is about two per cent. But with seismic upgrading it’s a different story.

“The interesting thing is, if we look at flood mitigation and seismic mitigation we see that the funding is almost 1 to 1.”

Related stories in the Nelson Star:

• Nelson conference will explore climate change and wildfire (June 2018)

• Wildfire fuel treatment expands in Nelson area (June 2018)

• Fire experts: Nelson could burn (Dec. 2016)

• Action by Nelson area landowners key to wildfire safety, expert says (June 2016)

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A medical worker prepares vials of the COVID-19 vaccines, Chinese Sinopharm, left, Sputnik V, center, and Pfizer at a vaccine centre, in the Usce shopping mall in Belgrade, Serbia, Thursday, May 6, 2021. Serbian authorities are looking for incentives for people to boost vaccination that has slowed down in recent weeks amid widespread anti-vaccination and conspiracy theories in the Balkan nation. The government has also promised a payment of around 25 euros to everyone who gets vaccinated by the end of May. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
38 new COVID-19 cases, more than 335k vaccines administered in Interior Health

Interior Health also to start targeted vaccinations in high transmission neighbourhoods

FILE PHOTO
Second doses of COVID-19 vaccine will be available, as AstraZeneca supply runs low: Interior Health

Province expecting large volumes of Pfizer BioNTech as age-based cohort immunization program ramps up

Greg Nesteroff and Eric Brighton, the historians behind popular Facebook page Lost Kootenays, are set to release a book of the same name and have just unveiled its cover showing the ghostly Hotel in Slocan City shortly before its 1953 demolition. Photo courtesy of Greg Nesteroff and Eric Brighton.
Popular historical Facebook page Lost Kootenays set to release book

128-page hard copy documenting history of East and West Kootenays coming this fall

Slava Doval and her youth group DanceFusion got an emotional response from residents at Mountain Lakes Seniors Community on April 30. Photo: Submitted
‘It touched me deeply’: Youth dancers perform at Nelson seniors home

Slava Doval’s DanceFusion danced outdoors for Mountain Lake residents

(The Canadian Press)
Trudeau won’t say whether Canada supports patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

‘Canada is at the table to help find a solution’

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to start releasing neighbourhood-specific COVID numbers after data leak

Documents obtained by the Vancouver Sun show cases broken down by neighbourhoods

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix update B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, April 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count creeps up, seven more deaths

445 people in hospital, 157 in intensive care

Summerland’s positive test rate is much higher than surrounding local health areas, according to internal BC CDC documents. (BC CDC)
Summerland 3rd behind Surrey, Abbotsford in daily per capita COVID-19 cases

Interior Health is rolling out additional vaccine availability to the community

Amazon is pausing its Prime Day marketing event in Canada this year amid ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks at its facilities in Ontario. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Amazon Prime Day halted in Canada due to COVID-19 outbreaks in warehouses

The event was postponed to protect the health and safety of employees and customers, the company says

Ally Thomas, 12, seen in an undated family handout photo, died on April 14 from a suspected overdose. Her family says they are frustrated more public supports weren't available when they tried to get her help. THE CANADIAN PRESS
Minister says suspected overdose death of 12-year-old pushing B.C. to ‘do better’

Minister Sheila Malcolmson of Mental Health and Addictions says the government is working ‘as hard as we can’ to build a system of care for youths

At this Highway 3 check point, police officers will be asking for identification from drivers, documentation regarding the driver’s name and address, and the purpose for the driver’s travel. (RCMP)
No fines handed out at 1st COVID-19 roadblock as checks move across B.C.

Cpl. Chris Manseau says a total of 127 vehicles were stopped at a roadblock in the Manning Park area

A spectator looks on as the Olympic Caldron is relit in downtown Vancouver, Wednesday, February 12, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Small majority of B.C. residents in favour of a Vancouver 2030 Olympic bid: survey

A new survey shows a split over the possibility of public money being spent to organize and host the winter games

Most Read