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World Firefighters To Meet In BC

By Robert Forrest
Copyright 1996. Contact publisher for permission to use.

Summary: A major conference in Vancouver and Abbotsford early next year will focus on wildland fire management and the use of fire as a sustainable development tool.

The British Columbia Forest Service began fighting forest fires in 1912. With almost 85 years of experience, the Forest Protection Branch of the Forest Service has developed a simple but effective formula for fighting fires: “Find it fast, hit it hard and attack where the need is greatest.”

It is an approach that is shared with other forest fire agencies throughout North America and the world. In mid-August, the Forest Protection Branch reported 186 active fires in the province. There were 976 during the year to that point, with 17,692 hectares burned. The average annual harvest in BC, by way of reference, covers 224,000 hectares. Because of its shared experience with others and a desire to share new methods and technology, the Forest Protection Branch is hosting the Second International Wildland Fire Conference next May 25 through May 30, 1997, in Vancouver and Abbotsford, a neighbouring community.

Fire A related event, Fire Expo ‘97, from May 28 to May 30, is being hosted by the International Wildfire Association of BC, a newly formed association which was brought together to help with the conference and exposition. “The steering committee got together and formed the association,” says Peter de Bruijn, a fire operations consultant for the Forest Service and a member of the organizing committee for the event. “This is a major international event,” says de Bruijn. “The first conference of itskind was in Boston in 1989 and this is the second one.

The Boston one was called The International Wildland Fire Conference and this one is now called The Second International Wildland Fire Conference. We’re going to be drawing the top fire managers from around the world. Even the Asian countries, Australia, South America and Europe.” The theme of the conference is wildland fire management and sustainable development.

Fire in the forest is sometimes used as an effective management tool. In many ecosystems, plants and animals have not only adapted to fire, but have become dependent on it. Fire can be necessary for opening dense forest areas to sunlight and the growth of shrubs and grasses. When this doesn’t happen, the build-up of slash and other fuels can create conditions for the devastating fires that have affected populated areas of Australia.

By contrast, when natural wildland fires are permitted to run their course, you have the rebirth of wildlands recently seen in Yellowstone National Park in the USA. “California has fires similar to those in Australia,” de Bruijn continues. “And there are certainly some very disastrous fires that h ave happened recently in places like Indonesia and Malaysia. And in the Mediterranean countries of Europe, southern France, Spain, Portugal, Greece. Certainly, it’s a worldwide phenomenon.

“We don’t realize the extent of the problem unless we are involved in fighting these fires. If you aren’t in the business, you often don’t hear of many fires. There are big fires happening in South Africa. It all depends on the vegetation and the climate.” Dry summer climates and excessive dry undergrowth or brush are major contributing factors.

“The last really spectacular fire that we have had here in British Columbia was in Penti cton in 1994, when a number of houses were destroyed,” de Bruijn continues. “We’re certainly in the area where those fires can happen. Spokane is doing it right now. They lost five homes there the other day.” In mid-August, when we talked to de Bruijn, seven western US states were experiencing wild fires.

Firefighters were being brought in from other parts of the country, an approach that has had to be used in Canada. Sharing of equipment and man-power has become a key to effectively managing wildfires. “There was almost one near Summerland this summer,” de Bruijn points out. “Fortunately, they managed to contain that one in time.”The conference will be unusual in that it will take place in two different cities: Vancouver and Abbotsford. Vancouver will host Wildland Fire ‘97, which includes the Second International Wildland Fire Conference. Fire Expo ‘97, a tie-in trade show that will feature 300 exhibitors, is at Abbotsford.

The Wildland Fire Conference is aimed at key players in the sector. The theme is ‘Wildland fire management and sustainable development.’ Conference sessions will cover topics ranging from arson to fire economics, to the natural role of fire and biodiversity and endangered species. The conference will also feature FireInfo 97, an information exhibit, and World Fire 97, which reviews outstanding fire management programs around the world. Some 700 conference delegates, including key players in the field, are expected to attend, says de Bruijn. “You’re going to see the key decision makers in fire management and fire suppression.”

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