The Okanagan Mountain Park wildfire is burning in the hills south of Kelowna. Image: Instagram/c_kirzinger

Okanagan wildfires have potential to become firestorms, says UBC expert

David Andison said to let smaller fires go, to create pockets in the landscape for new forests

A UBC wildfire expert says Okanagan wildfires have the potential to become massive firestorms because of the amount of dry fuels available.

David Andison, with the Department of Forest Management Resources at UBC, said the recent hot weather and winds dry out fuels quickly, and winds bend flames towards other flammable fuel.

When wildfires become large enough, usually thousands of hectares in size, they use so much energy they are able to affect the surrounding area and weather patterns, he said.

“Because they are consuming so much energy they need oxygen and so what they do is suck oxygen in. I’ve got pictures of fires where on the edge the trees are actually bending over at a 45-degree angle towards the fire and it’s the oxygen being sucked in because it’s consuming so much at such a rapid pace,” Andison said.

The mushroom cloud shaped smoke will influence other weather patterns around it and it can create its own clouds, as well as thunder and lighting, he said.

“These fires are sometimes compared to massive bombs because at their core they consume so much energy,” he said.

It is unlikely the fires currently burning in the Central Okanagan have those effects, but Andison said more needs to be done in terms of fuel management.

“What you want to have is a landscape where you have fire happening on a fairly regular basis. What’s happened in the Okanagan is we’ve been really successful at putting fires out, and a lot of them would’ve been smaller fires… that would’ve gone out, but it would have created different patches of forest, different ages, different types, different densities and you wouldn’t have this blanket,” he said. “By putting fires out, it encourages all of the forests to become older and dense and highly flammable.”

Andison said controlling the landscape is less expensive than firefighting.

“The combination of mechanical means to do some thinning to get in there and take trees out and do prescribed burns and, in more remote areas, manage wildfires,” he said.

If it isn’t near a population, it’s better to let the fire burn, creating pockets of landscape with no fuel, he said.

And the fire seasons in Canada are only going to get worse, according to Andison.

“Until we get ahead of it, it will be the way the things are. We created this situation largely because of climate control, but now it’s being compounded because climate change is creating longer fire seasons and more severe ones,” he said.

Forestry manager Kerry Rouck for Gorman Brothers Lumber said the company has been working with the Penticton Indian Band to monitor fuels next to its areas of logging.

Yet, B.C. fires don’t cause the same amount of devastation compared to our neighbours in the south. Last year, more than 40 people died from California wildfires, according to the United States Census Bureau. The 2017 B.C. wildfire season was one of the worst in the province’s history, but no deaths were reported, according to the province.

Andison said California’s constant winds, and forest fuels that only take years to build up opposed to decades in B.C. and the state’s population size are contributing factors.

“I think it’s a whole different risk situation…. there are people everywhere and a lot of the fires you see pictures on the news in the northern parts of Canada, if the winds pick up you’ll see people being pulled off the fire,” he said.

Related: Okanagan Mountain Park fire shows no growth overnight

Related: Wildfire near Peachland shows no growth overnight

@carliberry_
carli.berry@kelownacapnews.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

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

Just Posted

Coastal GasLink agrees to two-day pause of pipeline construction in Morice River area

Work will stop once Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs begin talks with province and feds

RCMP cease patrols on Morice West Service Road

Withdrawal opens door for talks today between hereditary chiefs, province and federal gov

Fort St. James Green Energy plant ‘offline’ until April

Plant manager said the biomass facility had an unforseen circumstance last December.

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs call for end of police patrols

Temporary closure of field office not enough to meet demands

Feds should have extended EI, says displaced forestry worker

Only 11 workers in the district have been placed into other jobs via forestry placement office.

Clothing, jewelry, purses: RCMP ask court about disposal of evidence in Robert Pickton case

Pickton was sentenced to life with no chance of parole for 25 years for the murders of six women

Speaker ‘will not tolerate illegal activity’ on B.C. legislature grounds, says chief of staff

Chief of staff to the B.C. speaker Alan Mullen says situation with demonstrators appears ‘fluid’

MPs to examine privacy implications of facial-recognition technology used by RCMP

The MPs will look at how the technology affects the privacy, security and safety of children

Dates back to 2009: Calgary police lay charges in fraud involving semi-trucks

Three people from Calgary are facing charges that include fraud over $5,000

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs optimistic ahead of talks with feds, province

Discussions with provincial and federal governments expected to start later today

‘The project is proceeding’: Horgan resolute in support of northern B.C. pipeline

B.C. premier speaks as talks scheduled with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs

BREAKING: Kelowna RCMP to further investigate 12 sexual assault cases, create sexual assault unit

Recommendations come five months after it was revealed 40% of sexual assaults were deemed ‘unfounded’

Explicit Greta sticker linked to Alberta company draws outrage

The sticker includes the logo of Red Deer-based X-Site Energy Services

Most Read