WHISTLER, B.C.—Whistler has a generally wet climate, with forests that have in the past burned on a roughly 400-year cycle. But they do burn, and whether the changing climate will make them more susceptible to fire is a major question touched on at a recent symposium covered by Pique Newsmagazine.
“Really, what we’re seeing across North America and almost across the globe is that the size and intensity of wildfires has increased substantially over the last 20 years, and particularly in B.C.,” said Bruce Blackwell, professional forester and biologist.
Whistler was among the first B.C. communities to complete a community wildlife protection plan. That was in 2006, but the work has been slow, Blackwell acknowledged. Whistler only recently has started doing controlled burns.
“At the current rate we’re going, we’re not going to be in a meaningful place for about 20 years,” he said. “More people need to be talking about it, more people need to be protecting their own properties.”
A 2014 assessment found a quarter of homes were at moderate risk, half at high risk and a quarter at extreme risk.
“Where I think the community completely falls down, and I’ll be blunt about it, is that we have not embraced FireSmart in this community,” said Blackwell, referring to a protocol for minimizing risk to homes in fire-prone settings.
In Colorado, many subdivisions in Breckenridge and other mountain towns have embraced FireSmart specifications for creating defensible spaces.
“There are way too many homes that have materials and or vegetation too close to their structures that, in the event of a fire, are not going to survive,” said Blackwell of the Whistler dangers.
Even more explicitly, he said that “if you’re leaving vegetation around your house, growing into your decks and your windows, we’re not going to save your house in one of these [fire] events.”
Speakers at the symposium said getting homeowners and condominium associations to switch from cedar shake shingles to steel roofs would go a long way to minimizing wildfire risk. In B.C., though, municipalities lack the authority to impose the regulation. In Colorado, many towns such as Vail now allow only shake shingles that have been processed to make them fire resistant.