Year after year, the BC Wildfire Service reports that the majority of wildfires in the province are human-caused. Sparks from railways or motor vehicles, carelessly discarded cigarettes, workplace mishaps, and open burning that went awry are all causes of fires, but much of the focus on prevention is on campfires, often those in the back country started by campers.
That focus on preventing campfires from sparking wildfires, and educating those using the back country, is by no means new. In the April 5, 1913 issue of the Journal — well in advance of that year’s fire season — an article appeared under the headline “Government Instructions For Careless Campers”. Apart from some slightly archaic phrasing and language, the piece could have been written today, since tips on how to prevent wildfires haven’t changed much in the past 108 years.
The piece also shows the ongoing issue with human-caused wildfires in the province. The writer of that long-ago article would probably be disheartened to find that, more than a century later, such advice is still sadly necessary. Here it is in full.
“How many of the 188 fires of which the causes are still unknown were the result of an untended camp fire is open to surmise, but as in most of the other risks such as railway and road construction, and logging operations the existence of fire is at once known, the camper may be justly held to account for a very large proportion of the season’s conflagrations.
“The Forest Branch is endeavouring to co-operate in every way with those who have work to perform which is attended with danger to the forest. But the greatest danger of all — that of the man who is careless with his camp fire, still remains open, and it can be removed only be increased watchfulness on the part of every individual who uses the woods for pleasure or profit.
“1. Be sure your match is out before you throw it away.
“2. Knock out your pipe ashes or throw your cigar or cigarette stump where there is nothing to catch fire.
“3. Don’t build a campfire any larger than is absolutely necessary. Never leave it, even for a short time, without putting it out with water or earth.
“4. Don’t build a campfire against a tree or log. Build a small one where you can scrape away the needles, leaves or grass from all sides of it.
“5. Don’t build bonfires. The wind may come up at any time and start a fire which you cannot control.
“6. If you discover a fire, put it out if possible; if you can’t, get word of it to the nearest forest ranger or fire warden as quickly as you possibly can.”
These days it is considerably easier (and faster) to report a forest fire than it was in 1913: simply call 1-800-663-5555 (or *5555 from a cell phone).