A scorched car rests in a clearing following the Bear Fire in Butte County, Calif., Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. The blaze, part of the lightning-sparked North Complex, expanded at a critical rate of spread as winds buffeted the region. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

A scorched car rests in a clearing following the Bear Fire in Butte County, Calif., Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. The blaze, part of the lightning-sparked North Complex, expanded at a critical rate of spread as winds buffeted the region. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Painful Truth: Fire now, fire forever

We can adapt, and we can heal, but we can’t go back

Hands up, everyone old enough to remember summers without a steady smoke haze over parts of the west coast.

Wow, look, it’s most of us!

Not some of the younger folks, though. They’ve grown up with smoke alerts here in Metro Vancouver.

You can find fire-related air quality alerts going back to the mid-1990s in parts of the Fraser Valley. Usually, those were linked to fires close by, like a 1995 fire in Boston Bar that poured haze into the upper Fraser Valley.

But now we get hazy skies every other year, it seems. And the fires are farther and farther away – eastern Washington, Oregon, the Interior of B.C., far beyond the coast.

I was an adult before I saw our skies turn orange in the middle of the day, and stick that way. Now I’ve seen it several more times, across multiple fire seasons.

We’re going to see it again.

When I was young, my family would sometimes head down across the border to a small southern Oregon town called Grants Pass. Not a significant place to the wider world, but my grandparents lived there, and my brother and I had a heck of a time roaming their back 40, turning over rocks and playing in the creek.

My grandparents moved on, and Grants Pass receded into memory.

This week, I found myself Googling the small town. Checking to see if it was still there.

As I write this column, it’s standing. There are fires to the north and south of Medford, the seat of the county directly to the east, and there are several fires to the south in California, just across the state line. But Grants Pass is there, for now.

Parts of the United States, from California through Oregon and into Washington State, are being wiped off the map this year.

What to us is a few days of bad air quality is the destruction of homes, stores, town halls, post offices, libraries, and in some cases, entire communities.

In 2018, the Camp Fire swept into Paradise, Calif., a town of more than 26,000 people, and destroyed or damaged 95 per cent of the town. A total of 86 people died or were never found.

Maybe, if we’re very lucky, there won’t be a fire that does that much damage this year, despite the unprecedented firestorm that’s engulfed the entire west coast of the U.S.

But if it doesn’t hit this year, it’ll be back, in 2021, or 2023, or 2030.

We know that next time, it could be us. It could be Osoyoos, or 100 Mile House, or Hope. We could see a big interface fire get into a major interior city like Prince George or Kamloops, or tear through a park or ravine in Metro Vancouver.

Fire has always been here. But thanks to the climate crisis, we’re now living in the age of fire.

It’s not going to get better, at least not on a human time scale.

These fires are fueled by the climate crisis. Anything we do right now won’t help us, but it might help future generations. I guess we’ll see if we can think ahead that far and act, or if it’s fire forever.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Limited edition light weight starter disc frisbee golf sets from Raptor’s Knoll are for sale. (Special to The Star)
Construction begins on community pavilion at Aldergrove’s ‘booming” Frisbee golf course

Co-founder says Raptors Knoll gets so busy with players, a second course would get completely filled

The Schoolmistress is a Victorian farce from 1886. (Theatre in the Valley/Special to the Langley Advance Times)
Schoolmistress brings Victorian farce to Langley’s livestreamed theatre

A Zoom production of the popular 1886 play will be held this March

Trent Miner is returning to the Vancouver Giants, the team announced. He has been released by the Colorado Eagles of the AHL.(Rik Fedyck/Vancouver Giants)
Trent Miner returns to play goal for Vancouver Giants

Netminder was part of epic 11-game winning-streak by Langley-based team

Vehicles lined up at the testing clinic at KPU’s Langley parking lot on Wednesday, Feb. 17. The site is also giving vaccinations to seniors 90 and over starting next week. (Langley Advance Times files)
KPU testing site will also host Langley mass vaccination clinic

Drive-through vaccinations will be available for those 90 and over next week

Langley native Tamara Lovelace has been named to the Team USA medical team for the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022 (Special to Langley Advance Times)
How a ‘very focused’ Brookswood Secondary grad ended up a Team USA doctor

Langley’s Tamara Lovelace was going to be a ballerina

(The Canadian Press)
‘Worse than Sept. 11, SARS and financial crisis combined’: Tourism industry in crisis

Travel services saw the biggest drop in active businesses with 31 per cent fewer firms operating

Montreal Canadiens right wing Paul Byron (41) fights for control of the puck with Vancouver Canucks defenceman Quinn Hughes (43) during first period NHL action in Vancouver, Monday, March 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Captain Clutch: Horvat nets shootout winner as Canucks edge Habs 2-1

Vancouver, Montreal tangle again on Wednesday

A special committee has been appointed to look at reforming B.C.’s police act and is inviting the public to make submissions until April 30, 2021. (Black Press media file)
Have thoughts on B.C.’s review of the provincial Police Act?

Submissions will be accepted until April 30

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Cottonwoods Care Home in Kelowna. (Google Maps)
New COVID-19 outbreak at Kelowna care home includes fully vaccinated seniors: Henry

Two staff and 10 residents tested positive at Cottonwoods Care Centre

Excerpts from a conversation between Bria Fisher and the fake truLOCAL job. Fisher had signed a job agreement and was prepared to start work for what she thought was truLOCAL before she learned it was a scam. (Contributed)
B.C. woman warning others after losing $3,000 in job scam

Bria Fisher was hired by what she thought was a Canadian company, only to be out thousands

Some of the hundreds of pounds of trash removed by divers last month from Abbotsford’s Walmsley Lake.(Henry Wang photo)
VIDEO: Divers remove 462 pounds of trash from Abbotsford lake

Walmsley Lake dive uncovers several tires, hundreds of drink containers and a tent

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix provide a regular update on the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, March 2, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 cases: 545 Saturday, 532 Sunday, 385 Monday

Focus on Prince Rupert, Lower Mainland large workplaces

Most Read