Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Smoky Days and Smoky Nights

 red areas have had no appreciable precipitation
We are on fire here in central British Columbia, not figuratively, but literally - 80 active forest fires of 10 hectares (about 25 acres) or more, burning in the district where I live and the two that border it. There are evacuation alerts and orders in many communities, and the whole central interior is blanketed in heavy smoke.

Our precipitation this summer has been next to nothing which has contributed much to the situation; plus, summer is thunderstorm season, which means many lightening strikes.The weather forecast is for continued heat, no rain, and now gusting winds. The whole province, including the central interior, is on high alert.

The situation is serious and taken very seriously. The penalties for starting a forest fire are 3 years in prison and a one million dollar fine.

Not only trees are at stake here - lives, homes, whole communities, livelihoods are in danger. There are currently several evacuation alerts/orders in place.
The dramatic photo is of a 2003 fire in Kelowna BC that burned about 200 homes.

That city faced another bad, if not as bad, fire in 2009 which burned about 20 homes.

Forest fires seem worse in the last few years. The weather has been warmer at times and drier. We also have millions of acres of trees killed by the mountain pine beetle, which leaves the trees tinder dry and, at one stage, with a turpentine-like substance in them.

I have never, until now, been at all afraid of the annual forest fires. And I am not afraid, moment to moment, now. But with the smoke so heavy in the air as a constant reminder, and the situation as bad as it is across the province, I have, for the first time, an evacuation plan written down - in part this is because I'm sure I would immediately go blank if the situation arose. It's not fancy, just a bare bones list of what to take and in what order.

For now, it is extremely unpleasant outdoors. The Air Quality Health Index for today is 10 (highest and most dangerous); some communities are at 10+. 

It's a good day to get to all those chores in the house that I have been avoiding. What a waste of a summer day, although I am thankful that we aren't facing evacuation or worse.





18 comments:

Trulyfool said...

Chris,

Sounds nasty. I've been through such situations in Southern California, where on more than one occasion, the main interstates get cut off, the sky fills with cinder, the swimming pools blacken, and you realize that the only way out would be airlift or a Dunkirk-like evacuation of millions

I'll keep an eye out on your area. Keep safe.

Trulyfool

ChrisJ said...

Trulyfool,

Yes, California always burns annually, too - and it seems in more heavily populated areas.

I don't think we are in any imminent danger here. Thanks.

Ciss B said...

That's got to be frightening, living in fear waiting to see how the whole thing plays out for your home, for your life which will change if your home burns.

Take care...I'll keep you in my thoughts and prayers.

ChrisJ said...

Christi,

I didn't want to give the impression that there is a fire really close by. We have much smoke and the government is warning that the situation in our (very large) area is grave, but I'm not anticipating evacuation or imminent threat - I'm just a little spooked and practicing evacuation in my head (my husband says that I'm a worrier!).

Thank you so much for your concern and your praayers.

Hels said...

For years and years in Australia, during the bushfire season, people were given the right to stay (to try to save their rural property) or go (to ensure the safety of their family). In 2009, 200 people and gazillions of animals were burnt to death in one day.

As much as we love our homes, gardens, furniture, books, clothes, paintings etc, people are slowly changing their mind. It isn't worth fighting a fire and risk losing lives.

Of course all your vital documents (passports, baby's birth certificate, insurance papers, your PhD thesis, your parents' wedding photos) have to be sent to a safe spot that can never be burnt eg a bank vault in the centre of Vancouver.

Global warming is a scary experience, none more than bush fires rampaging across your state/province. I hope you are all very safe.

Judie said...

Here in Arizona we have the same threats annually. One year the fires were within 2 miles of our home, and that was scary. We got used to seeing an orange sun all day long, and tried to stay indoors as much as possible. One year, Mt. Lemmon (10,000 ft.)burned for weeks and destroyed many homes and businesses. The summit is only one hour from our house.

Fortunately we have not had as many fires this year. Know that I am thinking of you, because I know how bad it can be.

ChrisJ said...

Hels,

Yes, that's one thing I'm totally clear about - if it ever is time to leave, then that's it - leave.

I hope we don't come to that here, but many are facing it farther south.

ChrisJ said...

Judie,

That must have been really scary.

We have no fires that close to us, but today's weather is worrying everyone.

cooper said...

I'm glad you are safe but I find it frightening. Looking at it makes me cough.

ChrisJ said...

Cooper,

I'm frightened too, sometimes, but so far it's okay - coughing will be on the agenda for a few days though.

Owen Gray said...

It must be frightening and the smoke must make you feel a little claustrophobic.

My sister lives outside Los Angeles and goes through this every year. My impression is that, with each passing year, the fire season is more threatening.

Take care.

ChrisJ said...

Owen,

Yes it is a little frightening, but so far we're okay here. The smoke is claustrophobic - and staying indoors feels restrictive.

I am more fearful about what the future holds for each fire season.

Judie said...

We just got an email from our cousins in Banff, and they tell us that the smoke from the fires is obscuring their view of the Rocky Mountains.

ChrisJ said...

Judie,

Yes, I saw some pics from near Banff. It's going even farther east, too.

Pearl said...

Wow, that's got to be hard on then nerves and lungs.

Hope the air clears soon.

ChrisJ said...

Pearl,

The air is better today - down to a 4 on the air quality health index - it was 10+ late Wednesday, and very hard on the lungs.

Hels said...

I had scheduled a post about bushfire in art some months ago, but I published it this week because a] your post prodded me into action and b] friends just returned from Toronto where it was 42c. Is that correct???

Destructive though bushfires are, thanks for the link
Hels
http://melbourneblogger.blogspot.com/2010/09/australian-bushfires-in-art-iii.html

ChrisJ said...

Hels,

I know that eastern Canada has been having a terrible heat wave, so 42 in Toronto is entirely possible (although I haven't been following that closely).

I'm off to look at your post!