While wildfires in BC and the damaging effects of climate change are not new, only since 2015 can I recall Vancouver getting covered in a thick blanket of smoke because of it. It’s a relatively new issue we Vancouverites are still trying to deal with, hoping that it’s not a continuing trend. 2017 was one of the worst wildfire seasons in British Columbia’s history. 1,216,053 hectares of land burned, almost ten times that of the average of 151,014 ha over the last ten years. The province was in a state of emergency for 70 days; the longest in BC’s history.
It’s too early to call it, but 2018 is shaping up to be just as bad, and maybe even worse given that the major fires have only been burning in the last couple of weeks and as of August 19, 2018, there have been 1,891 fires burning 604,975 hectares of land. That’s 538 more fires than 2017, half the total size of 2017 already, and four times the land size of the average year.
Aside from a few blips, sadly the amount of human-caused fires has been holding pretty steady at around 43% over the last ten years, indicating that we have not been learning from our mistakes. Climate change is exacerbating the situation. We all need to step up and take action now. We need more education and enforcement about things like how to properly put out a campfire and the dangers of tossing a cigarette butt out the window, and we also need to shift away from our environmentally-damaging way of life that prioritizes profit and convenience over our own health and ultimately our survival. Learn more about climate change solutions here.
Luckily, our BC Wildfire Service is internationally recognized as a leader in wildfire management, known for its skilled and committed personnel, uncompromising safety attitude, and innovative use of technology. Highly trained fire crews based out of six regional fire centres are successful in containing 94% of all wildfires in B.C. by 10am the following day.
While the impact of these fires are most devastating to the people, animals and the environment surrounding the wildfires of note, all of British Columbia and surrounding areas are impacted. According to Environment Canada’s Air Quality Health Index, as of today August 20, 2018, most of Metro Vancouver is at the highest level of risk (10/10+). The air quality is dangerous as levels of fine particulate matter (called PM 2.5) are high. It is carcinogenic to humans, penetrating deep into our lungs and bloodstream. The air quality changes day to day. See an interactive map showing the air quality index in each of area in Vancouver here, or worldwide here.
With this risk level, Environment Canada recommends the general population reduces or reschedules strenuous activities outdoors, especially if you experience symptoms such as coughing and throat irritation. If you are part of the at-risk population (elderly, children and those with pre-existing lung or heart diseases), it is recommended you avoid strenuous outdoor activities altogether. When exercising like hiking, your breathing increases so you are taking in more air and thus more particulate matter. So, if you are adamant about continuing to hike:
Steer clear of areas with active wildfires nearby
Leave a trip plan to make sure someone knows where you are and when you’re expected back
Hike in areas with low AQHI (air quality health index)/PM 2.5 levels
Avoid strenuous hikes to minimize inhalation of particulate matter
Hike at low elevations where smoke is less thick
If you see a fire or billowing smoke from one, get out of the area immediately and call 1-800-663-5555 or *5555 on your cell to report it to BC Wildfire Service.
If you insist on hiking when it’s smokey out, consider checking out the easier, forested trails you may not otherwise give time to on a clear, sunny day. It’s nice to slow down sometimes, enjoy the scenery, get to know the local environment and history of a place. Below are 20 great low elevation, easy hikes near Vancouver. They don’t rely on far-off vistas to be beautiful either, so the scenery will be enjoyable.