B.C. forest fires could double in size amid climate change: report

The 2003 wildfire season cost the government $500 million in firefighting.

Climate change is expected to double the annual burn area and increase the costs of fighting fires

Expect forest fires to double in size and ferocity by 2080, according to a draft report from the B.C. government’s wildlife management branch on the impact that climate change will have on wildfires the province. Communities will face the threat of summer ‘mega fires’ that could outstrip the province’s firefighting capacity as the season extends into the spring and fall.

Those projections are based on a 4 C increase in global temperatures by 2080 and the ongoing pressures of urban development and the mountain pine beetle manifestation, which literally converts trees into forest fire fuel. Higher temperatures, which will have little effect on the northwest, will increase the incidences of lightning strikes and one-off catastrophic seasons, in the southern interior in particular.

The 2003 wildfire season, B.C.’s costliest to date, resulted in $1.3 billion in spending on firefighting and economic losses. Besides the $126.9 million in destroyed property, the government spent $500 million on firefighting that year and is still responding to legal challenges of over $100 million in damages.

In the last decade, wildfires have taken a toll on the forestry and tourism sectors. Around 340,000 hectares of timber were lost to fire between 2003 and 2010 and reforestation alone has cost the province $133 million.