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Editorial: Hot times

Smoke and fire retardant is seen along a neighbourhood in Lake Country, B.C., Sunday, July 16, 2017. Over one hundred wildfires are burning throughout British Columbia, forcing thousands of residents to be subject to evacuation orders or alerts. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Smoke and fire retardant is seen along a neighbourhood in Lake Country, B.C., Sunday, July 16, 2017. Over one hundred wildfires are burning throughout British Columbia, forcing thousands of residents to be subject to evacuation orders or alerts. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

What a difference a day makes. Monday, there was only one area of the province where the provincial forestry service was forecasting “very high” forest fire risk in its new forest fire index.

By Tuesday morning, 12 regions — including almost all of central Newfoundland and a good chunk of the area monitored in Labrador — were forecast to soon be at “very high” and three regions in Labrador were forecast as “extreme.”

The only area left in the province expected to remain at “moderate” was a section of the Great Northern Peninsula.

The recently introduced web-based service — you can find it here http://www.faa.gov.nl.ca/forestry/forest_fires/ — is a great idea, because you can see at a moment not only what the risks are, but where active fires are burning.

But the current fire forecast is only part of the story. With the most recent changes to the weather forecast for many parts of the province, reducing the chance of rain showers and forecasting continued high temperatures, it’s likely the fire risks will continue to rise.

And that’s where you come in.

Right now, 162 forest fires are burning across British Columbia, and mandatory evacuations have moved thousands of people from their homes. So far this year, the B.C. Wildfire Service has had to deal with 572 fires, and while many have been started by natural causes like lightning strikes and have been fanned by wind, a whopping 258 of the fires that have been investigated (and some are still under investigation) were started by humans.

The causes include cigarettes thrown from moving vehicles to unattended or smoldering campfires to ATVs travelling over dry grass that flares from contact with hot exhaust parts.

In British Columbia, getting a handle on human causes has meant stronger enforcement and higher fines in recent years — violating a campfire ban, for example, can cost you $1,100. That errant cigarette butt? $575. Being convicted for starting a fire can carry a penalty of a year in jail and $100,000 in fines.

In this province, the fines are considerably lower.

But that doesn’t mean we can afford to be careless. The temptations are obvious: a summer day on a river fishing seems tailor-made for a boil-up on the foreshore, and a camping trip just doesn’t seem complete without an evening campfire under the stars, especially as a hot day cools into a soft evening.

Just remember that everything around you — the trees shouldering down to the river, the forest surrounding your favourite pond — can change for decades because of a forest fire burnover.

The hard part about preventing human-caused forest fires is making people understand that a moment’s carelessness can’t be undone.

And no matter how genuinely sorry you are about it afterwards, it won’t make a whit of difference.

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