10-year fire anniversary offers important safety reminder

Forest fire
Photo courtesy of BC Wildfire Management Branch

2003 fire was the most significant in B.C. history

This summer marks 10 years since devastating wildfires burned in the Kelowna region of B.C. The 2003 Okanagan Mountain Park Fire was the worst wildfire that British Columbia has ever experienced. By the time it finished burning, more than 30,000 people were evacuated, over 230 homes were gone and the fire had destroyed more than 25,000 hectares.

While there hasn't been a wildfire as devastating as the Kelowna fire in the last 10 years, each fire season still means heightened risk and the need to be prepared in the event of an emergency. In fact, B.C. faces around 2,000 wildfires each year, almost half of which are caused by people. Lighting strikes, especially during summer storms, are responsible for starting the rest.

Preventing wildfires requires everyone to do their part, from preparing your home to practicing fire safety when camping.

How you can prepare for fire season and prevent wildfires

If you live in or travel through areas at risk for wildfires, learn what you need to know to stay safe. B.C.'s Wildfire Management Branch offers tips on preparing your property and ensuring that you don't contribute to wildfire risk. Their top tips include:

With any potential emergency, you should be prepared and ensure your family knows what to do. Emergency Info BC recommends being able to evacuate your property on short notice, having an emergency kit, and an evacuation plan.

Get more tips and the latest wildfire news from Emergency Info BC.

Conair water bomber drop onto forest fire
Photo courtesy of BC Wildfire Management Branch

BC Hydro coordinates efforts to protect infrastructure, manage fire risk

For BC Hydro, wildfire season means a heightened need to prepare for risks to our infrastructure and our crews. Across the province, BC Hydro takes a coordinated approach to preparing for fires.

Tara Laycock, a senior emergency manager for BC Hydro, says that most of the preparation means ensuring teams have the information and equipment that they need. Preventative vegetation management, developing evacuation plans for BC Hydro facilities and selective use of fire retardant are among the preparations that BC Hydro undertakes for wildfire season. They also stockpile equipment in communities facing greater wildfire threat.

"We might store extra lines and poles in communities at risk, which really helps us to restore power faster," Laycock says. Without the extra supplies in place, restoration can be delayed as local crews need to wait for equipment to arrive. "Infrastructure like power lines that are burned may need replacing and there may be opportunities to improve the system during the rebuild," she says.

BC Hydro also works with local governments to identify critical infrastructure, like hospitals or pump stations, and aims to keep power on there as long as possible, and restore it as fast as possible if it goes out.

Restoration follows direction of local wildfire command

Sometimes restoration delays can occur despite BC Hydro's preparations, Laycock explains. In a wildfire (or any other emergency situation), BC Hydro crews work under the direction of the local Incident Commander and are subject to the same evacuation orders and precautions as fire crews. This means it isn't always possible to keep power going or to restore it quickly.

"Our priority is always the safety of our crews, and the safety of the public," says Laycock.

In any emergency situation, including wildfires, electrical equipment can pose a risk. In the event of wildfire, stay away from and do not touch BC Hydro infrastructure.

Preparation can't prevent all the fires

"Forecasting fire season is more challenging than forecasting flood season," Laycock says of trying to assess the upcoming fire risk each year. "You might just get an unexpected lightning strike which starts a wildfire." B.C. crews do an impressive job containing wildfires — 92 per cent are contained at less than four hectares in size. But there's always the chance that unexpected weather or carelessness can create the type of wildfire that we saw in Kelowna 10 years ago.

That's why it's important to do what we can to help prevent wildfire risk. Before you head out camping this summer, take a moment to review the Wildfire Management Branch tips on preventing wildfire, and stay up to date on the latest wildfire alerts and news.