Last year, just two of British Columbia’s worst wildfires cost insurers over $127 million. As we entered August 2018, the province had already spent more than $89 million on fires spanning from the Okanagan to right here in the Greater Vancouver area as Richmond’s aptly named Burns Bog continued to blaze. The threat of future scary and smoky summers has led many BC residents to ponder if there is anything that they can do to help prevent forest fires in the future. Given that half of all reported wildfires in the province are the result of human interference, this is a good question to ask. Today, Park Insurance is here with some tips to minimizing the human contribution to this seasonal threat.
5 Tips People Can Take to Help Reduce the Occurrence of Wildfires in British Columbia
1. No Smoking Near Brush or Forest
This may fall under the “obvious” category but year in and out discarded cigarette butts continue to be a primary culprit for BC wildfires. Try not to smoke when camping or visiting a forested area. If your habit makes this an unrealistic request, at the very list be extreme in your cigarette butt disposal diligence. That means not only should you extinguish cigarettes (and other) before disposing of them, you should submerge and stir them in water for three full seconds first.
This mindfulness should also be applied to when you are on the road or highway, ensuring that neither you or your passengers dispose of butts by tossing them out of the window and inadvertently on to kindling.
2. Campfire Best Practices
The natural bounty in BC has many of you heading for local and provincial campgrounds in search of solace and adventure. But these outdoor retreats can turn into disaster when campfires are improperly managed. Take note of the following before you and your party spark a campfire flame:
- Follow explicit campground rules regarding where you can build a campfire.
- If there are no posted signs about where you can build a campfire, take note to not build one in hazardous, dry conditions, and choose a site at least 15-feet from shrubs, trees, tents, vehicles, gear, and other flammable objects. Even if a tree stump is 15-feet away, you will want to check and make sure that there are no low-hanging branches that can be susceptible to a spark.
- Be careful with campfire accessories, including matches, hot plates, and even wooden or steel sticks/pokers for s’mores or kabobs. After being heated and/or flamed by the campfire, they themselves can carry enough heat to ignite dry flammable grounds. Once used, extinguish and/or cool them in water before disposal or storage.
- Have someone monitor the campfire at all times. A campfire should never be left unattended.
- Keep a large pot of water on hand to quickly extinguish a campfire should it get out of control, and when extinguishing the fire for the night (or when leaving grounds) soak it and inspect it (moving logs, twigs, etc.) to ensure that there is no flame or spark is left subtly burning.
3. Monitor Weather Reports for Wind
While it is a good idea to avoid camping during extreme dry spells and under the threat of thunder/lightening storms in BC, monitor weather forecasts for changing winds. A swift shift in a wind pattern can catch you off guard and gust your campfire into ignitable brush. Monitor the local wind forecast twice per day and if there is a concern, move your campfire to a zone that is protected from gusting winds, if you didn’t start out in one from the beginning.
4. Containing Other Flammable Items
There are other items that you may be bringing along with you on hikes, camping expeditions, and other visits to the brush or forested area, items that inflate the risk of wildfire. Lanterns, lighting systems, and portable stoves/BBQs can all lead to fire when not properly monitored and managed when in use. Only allow those with significant experience to use them.
In addition, if bringing fuel (backup for your vehicle, etc.) into a forested area, use extreme caution when filling up a tank (etc.) as the slightest spill can exponentially inflate the risk of fire, not just on the day you’re there, but into the near future as others venture into the space without getting a heads up about the spill. If one does occur, pick up the debris that caught the spill and dispose of it safely. Consider brining along cat litter or baking soda and pour it over the area (after picking up what you can), and cover it with adjacent dirt. Make sure that you don’t light a fire or start a generator near the area of the spill, even if you have attended to it as directed.
5. Don’t Be Afraid to Alert the Authorities
There are two scenarios to consider here. For one, you or someone in your party may have accidentally caused a small fire while in a brush or forested area. Even if it appears as if it will quickly run its course and dissipate, contact 911, your local fire department, and/or the park service if you cannot confidently and safely contain it. Don’t worry about getting in trouble (so to speak) with local authorities as the consequences of abandoning a fire are far more grave, from both a safety and liability perspective.
The other scenario comes from a failure to report a potential wildfire. You hear the stories time and time again, as someone witnesses a plume of smoke in the distance, and makes the assumption that the hazard is being addressed by local authorities. Do not make this assumption. If you see something, say something. Respective parks boards and other governing parties would rather be inundated with phone calls about a potential fire than having to deal with containment too late.
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