Even more of BC faces wildfire risk due to climate change, say PICS researchers

10% of B.C.’s forests are exposed to an extreme wildfire threat (dark red areas) and are close to major cities (black dots) in the southern Interior. Areas under extreme wildfire threat are two times larger than the forested area burned from 2017 to 2021. Map inset: Purple areas show fires burned from 2000 to 2021, dark purple areas burned between 1950 and 1999, and black areas burned between 1917 and 1949.

In the past five years, B.C. has experienced the three worst fire seasons in recorded history, and fire events are expected to increase in frequency and severity due to climate change.

The Wildfire and Carbon project team is studying large areas of extreme fire risk— roughly 10 per cent of B.C.’s forested area. The team is looking at how to treat these areas to reduce the consequences of future wildfires and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.

A recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change noted climate change is increasing area burned by wildfire, and included a study on B.C.’s 2017 wildfires that found that burned area was between seven and 11 times higher than natural events due to climate change.
Wildfires are intensifying because of higher temperatures, drought, and extreme fuel conditions. Wildfires accelerate climate change by releasing huge quantities of greenhouse gas emissions from burned fuels.

The team is modelling the effect of different forest-management options to reduce future wildfire intensity while also providing products and energy to meet society’s needs, keeping B.C.’s forests growing and removing carbon from the atmosphere.