Whistler's forests are "tinder dry" and the fire hazard extreme. The province is experiencing one of the hottest, driest summers on record. Forest fires in B.C. are already 10 times bigger than last year with warnings from experts to expect things to get worse.
Wildfires are now an integral part of summer and no community set in the forest is immune from them. Short of clear-cutting a fire break in the forest around Whistler there is no quick fix in sight. So aside from a praying a bit what is the community doing to reduce the risk of wildfire? As far as I can tell, not much.
After the events of last summer the threat of wildfire is no secret, or at least it shouldnt be. In response to this situation the Forest Service has produced and distributed a handbook called The Home Owners FireSmart Manual. The reason it is called the home owner's manual is that it provides the information necessary to assess and reduce fire hazard in clear cut, simple terms that any lay person can understand and apply. Specialized expertise is not required. The manual deals with, among other things, fire risks associated with various types of home construction as well as the risk posed by combustible elements around the home. The manual contains an easily applied Home & Site Hazard Assessment with questions like "Is your home set back from the edge of a slope?" The assessment also asks questions about the type of vegetation surrounding the home.
For example, if the forest is within 10 metres (about 33 feet) of the home and contains conifers, even if mixed with leafy trees, 30 points is assessed. If the home is within 30 metres (about 100 feet) of a forest with conifers then either 10 or 30 points is assessed depending on whether the trees are separated 10 to 20 feet at the crown or continuous. An assessment totalling 30-35 points garners a high fire hazard rating and an assessment of more than 35 points, an extreme fire hazard rating. Most homes in Whistler would easily have a high rating. Many would be extreme. And the hazard for some homes would literally be off the scale.
These high fuel loads open the door to a very real possibility; a fire in a home bridging to the adjacent forest through intermediate conifers and fuel on the ground in the form of dry grass, dead twigs and shed tree needles, that in turn sets off a wildfire.
The community of Pinecrest just a few kilometres south of Whistler has actively been working to reduce what is termed "the interface hazard" for months. And the results of this community effort are impressive. Do they know something Whistler doesnt know or are we just slow off the mark? We are now entering the most dangerous time of the year for wildfires, the traditionally hot, dry month of August.