Wildfires burning across British Columbia have left the province in a state of emergency with over 14,000 evacuees and counting with about 230 active wildfires today, altogether burning more than 170,000 acres. In the United States, approximately 5,000 Californians are under evacuation orders with 14 large wildfires currently burning throughout the state. The State of California estimates that 92,439 acres have been lost to wildfires so far this year.
The fires are so massive that they can be viewed via NASA’s satellite imagery systems, which are used to assist firefighters with containment efforts.
Smoke from wildfires presents a serious air quality issue, as the mixture of gases and small particles that emit from a wildfire are toxic. If you’re located anywhere near these areas, pay attention to alerts and orders issued by your local government, and stay tuned to your local news and weather station.
Wildfire behaviour and smoke alerts
In Canada, Environment and Climate Change Canada issues twice-daily predictions where smoke from fires is expected to spread. The Canadian Wildland Fire Information System updates fire behaviour maps regularly. In the United States, the Air Quality Index regularly updates smoke advisories and forecasts here.
FEMA offers a Prepare your Organization for a Wildfire Playbook, which provides tips for holding preparedness discussions as well as active tabletop exercises and tips for staying prepared year-round.
According to the California Department of Forestry & Fire Protections, before a wildfire hits your area:
- Create defensible space to separate your home from flammable vegetation and materials.
- Adhere to all local fire and building codes and weed abatement ordinances.
- Keep all trees and shrub limbs trimmed so they do not come into contact with electrical wires or overhang your chimney. (Do not trim around live power lines yourself, call a professional.)
- Prune all lower branches eight feet from the ground.
- Keep trees adjacent to buildings free of dead or dying branches.
- Stack firewood away from your home and other buildings. (Keep clearance around your piles.)
- Keep roof surfaces clear of pine needles, leaves and debris at all times.
- Install spark arresters for each chimney.
- Clean chimneys and check and maintain spark arresters twice a year.
- Keep rain gutters clear of debris at all times.
- Use approved fire resistant materials when building, renovating or retrofitting structures.
- Install electrical lines underground if possible.
- Be sure your house numbers show clearly from the street, both day and night.
- Store combustible or flammable materials in approved containers.
- Store all important papers in a fireproof container or keep copies at another location.
- Make evacuation plans with family members. Include several options with an outside meeting place and contact person. Practice regularly.
- Keep battery operated radios and flashlights with additional fresh batteries on hand.
The photos below are taken by WPS Disaster Management Solutions CEO Terry Bruns. Just west of 100 Mile House in British Columbia, Bruns was camping with an ATV group when the fire broke out. Dubbed the Gustafsen wildfire, it has spread to a 5,000-hectare radius, and residents are under an evacuation order. The fire is currently 15 per cent contained.