James Murray tells a story for a small crowd at the ORL Salmon Arm branch on Saturday, Feb. 25.

Column: Careless campers can raze a forest

There’s more than 150 forest fires burning in the Province of British Columbia.

Some 41,000 hectares or about 100,000 acres of forest have burned, in some areas consuming house and homes. Whole communities have been evacuated, some destroyed, and many families do not know what they will be returning to. Smoke from fires near Williams Lake, Kamloops, Cache Creek and the Lake Country has been drifting into the Shuswap for the past several weeks. Some days it has been so dense you couldn’t even the other side of the lake.

Watching the coverage of the fires and the evacuation of residents on TV brings back memories of the 1998 Silver Creek fire, as well as the fires in Tappen and Chase. The ever present, pungent smell of smoke in the air, the blood red skies and the nagging worry in the back of your mind : What if the winds stir up the flames and speed the fire closer to homes? Once you have lived through such an experience you never forget it.

The vast majority of the fires currently burning in B.C. have been caused by lightening strikes, but not all.

Abandoned campfires are an all too common cause of wildfires. Careless campers can threaten our forests, parks, homes and communities. Far too many of the wildfires in our province are caused by people and are all completely preventable. By law, when you light a campfire, you are responsible for both controlling and containing the fire, as well as extinguishing it when you are finished.

Although there is at present a complete ban on open campfires in our province, the BC Forest Service recommends a number of common-sense practices when you are allowed to have campfires.

Before heading out on a camping trip, check to find out if there are burning or campfire restrictions in the area you are going.

Prepare your site before lighting a fire. Try to use an already established fire pit whenever possible. Make sure your fire site is located a safe distance away from combustible materials such as the branches of trees, logs on the ground or nearby wooden structures.

If the wind is strong enough to carry sparks, don’t burn. Keep all fires as small as possible. Never leave a fire unattended. And make sure you have an adequate water supply and the necessary tools on hand to extinguish your fire when you are finished. Stir water into the ashes until they are cold to the touch – hot coals can reignite into a fire.

BC Forest Service data indicates there are, on average, 22 campfires found abandoned in the Salmon Arm area each year. Extrapolate that number provincewide and the threat of wildfire becomes very real.

The Canadian Forest Fire Danger Rating System is an “indices” of the probability of fires starting as well as the rate at which fires will spread. It takes into consideration a variety of forest environmental factors such as how easily a fire could ignite, how fast it may spread, and how difficult it might be to control. During the summer months this rating is usually high or extreme.

Last year there was more than 800 fires in our province. And while, statistically, the majority of these fires were caused by lightening strikes rather than by humans, the Forest Service still has to divert manpower away from naturally caused fires each time they deal with a preventable human caused fire.

You can’t always control everything on a camping trip – especially the weather. However, you can maintain control of your campfire.

While rain may help lessen the risk of forest fires, the amount of relief it gives is more or less dependent on the overall conditions prior to rainfall. It may seem wet outside, but one or two days of rain will not effect the overall fire danger rating. Even if you end up leaving because of the rain, don’t assume that a fire will go out by itself.

Remember, it is your responsibility to make sure that a fire is completely out before you leave a campsite.