Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Fire in BC; the culprits

Every summer, our BC forests burn. Not all of them, of course; the mountains are still green, our logging trucks still carry wood to market. But there are always fires.

My daughter and son-in-law arrived yesterday in Bella Coola from a motorcycle exploration with a new sighting; a lightning-struck tree, the dead wood at its foot fuel for a spreading flame. They had separated the pieces, stomped out the fire, covered it with earth. But there was a branch higher up, on fire and perilously close to a beetle-killed tree.

Here, as soon as he got his gear off, s-i-l phoned it in, with the GPS coordinates. It will be taken care of, like the other 29 major, dozens of minor, fires.

Lightning is usually the match that starts the fire going. Once, during a lightning storm, we saw a tree on the opposite mountain face suddenly burst into flame. A couple of minutes later, as the rain pounded down, the fire sputtered and went out.

If lightning usually brings rain, why, then, do our forests continue to burn? Blame it on the beetles.

Beetle-killed tree

Mountain pine beetles lay their eggs under the bark of pine trees. The larvae hatch, and eat their way through the inner bark, where the sap that feeds the tree runs. Enough beetles, and the tree turns dry and brown, then dies.

More beetle kill

The next generation of beetles lays eggs in a neighbouring tree; the plague spreads rapidly. Some of our forests are sprinkled with beetle-kill; here and there, whole hillsides, whole mountain sides, even, are dead or dying. The wood is dry, the needles oily; a tiny flame can turn a whole tree into a torch. Underneath, dead wood and bone-dry needles litter the forest floor.

Forest floor, West Chilcotin

On top of that, BC's interior is naturally dry country. So summer after summer, we send out the firefighters, prepare to evacuate, warn older people and people with lung or heart problems to stay inside, and hope for rain. Lots of rain, not just a sprinkle here and there.

My adventure, next. When depends on my internet connection.

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