Devastation from a cigarette butt

Carelessness has led to extreme damage to B.C.'s forests

The 2003 fire season was one of the most catastrophic in British Columbia’s recorded history. Due to an extended drought in the southern half of the province, forest firefighters faced conditions never seen before in Canada. Lightning strikes, human carelessness, and arson all contributed to igniting nearly 2,500 fires involving more than 10,000 firefighters and support personnel and burning more than 265,000 hectares (ha) at a cost of $375 million. The extreme volatility of the dry forests, compounded by the province’s difficult terrain, created unprecedented fire behaviour and made fire suppression almost impossible. The ongoing fires put extreme pressure on human and equipment resources and the daily outbreak of new fires (218 fires on one day alone) added an even greater burden on suppression teams. In the summer of 2003 the forest fire hazard indicator showed “extreme” for the North Thompson area. Day time temperatures had registered above 30 degrees Celsius for many weeks and had climbed to 40 degrees in some areas. It was recorded as the longest hot and dry spell in fifty years. On July 30th, 2003, a carelessly dropped cigarette butt started the McLure/Barriere Wildfire. Within minutes it was out of control, quickly encompassed the valley and was battled until well into September. Approximately 72 residences were lost to the fire; equipment, vehicles, gardens, barns and livestock became victims of the inferno. Nine businesses were lost and the Tolko mill, Barriere’s largest employer was also claimed by the blaze. Forty-five fire departments with just under 500 firefighters and 49 pieces of equipment joined in the fight. Twelve helicopters as well as fixed-wing air tankers took part. Since then residents and business owners have been working together to rebuild their lives, and their determination is evident by the many new homes that have been built; the fences that have been put up again, the gardens that have come back to life, and most of all by the strong show of resolve to work together toward a common goal. The fire-scarred hillsides are a gripping reminder of the 2003 wildfires. But they signify more than catastrophe, or destruction; they show nature’s ability for rebirth. The rebirth of a healthy, vibrant landscape. Animals have returned to their old habitat, new growth has appeared for them to feed on, and wildflowers have shown up everywhere. Many of the burnt areas have been cleaned up by salvage logging, and arial seeding has produced green growth across burned areas. Nature, as always, is healing itself.