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.

Just Posted

The Who’s iconic rock opera coming to Kelowna

Theatre Kelowna Society celebrates 70th season this fall with Tommy

Meet your RibFest BBQers

RibFest Kelowna runs Aug. 23, 24 and 25

Lake Country residents would like to swim

Survey shows 55 per cent of respondents favour a community pool

Indoor Okanagan soccer league expands in 2nd year

The Okanagan Premier League (OPL) returns for indoor action in October

Local photographer donates book sales to Foundry Kelowna

The book features 14 Kelowna men sharing their mental health resiliency stories

Down the Rabbit Hole in Kelowna

Down The Rabbit Hole, is a story based on Alice in Wonderland told through dance and acrobatics.

Down the Rabbit Hole in Kelowna

Down The Rabbit Hole, is a story based on Alice in Wonderland told through dance and acrobatics.

Police watchdog investigating two officers after Langley teen’s suspected overdose

According to IIO, two officers were deployed to help Carson Crimeni but did not locate him before he died

B.C. father tells judge he did not kill his young daughters

Andrew Berry pleaded not guilty to the December 2017 deaths

Judge seeks compassion for man caught on moped

Defendant says ICBC told him he could drive

The Ice Queen of the blues coming to the South Okanagan

Award winning blues artist Sue Foley coming to the Dream Café

UPDATED: Kelly Ellard gets day parole extended for six more months, overnight leave

Kelly Ellard was convicted of killing 14-year-old Reena Virk in 1997

New study suggests autism overdiagnosed: Canadian expert

Laurent Mottron: ‘Autistic people we test now are less and less different than typical people’

Most Read