Mega-Fires on the Climate Alarmism Menu in British Columbia

According to an article at Canada's state broadcaster – the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation – “B.C. [British Columbia] communities risk going up in flames under the threat of what the forests ministry calls 'mega fires,' saying they will be so large current firefighting techniques won't be able to cope.”

The draft report from the [provincial] Wildfire Management Branch says these mega fires are predicted to increase as climate change progresses, and warns a great deal of work is needed to head off future disasters.

I looked at the 327-page report produced by the province's Wildfire Management Branch and found some interesting points.  The first figure shows “Area Burned (ha) in British Columbia 1993-2013.” Another figure only shows the area burned from wildfires between 1985 and 2010, noting that “2010 set a record for the most area burned in one fire season (330,000 ha).”

Then I went to the National Forestry Database, which keeps records on the area burned, number of fires, and the damage from fires dating back to 1971.  In other words, the records date back farther than just 1993, or 1985.  Here are trends in area burned and number of fires each year since records began.

There is no significant trend in total area burned over this period.  The correlation using non-parametric methods appropriate to such datasets is negative toward less burn area, not more.  Parametric regression also shows not even a remote hint of a statistically significant trend.

As for the number of fires per year, there is a statistically significant trend toward fewer fires.

What about that BC government claim that “2010 set a record for the most area burned in one fire season (330,000 ha)”?  No, it did not.  There were 330,000 ha burned in 2010 (actually, it was 337,150), but in 1982, there were 348,693 ha burned, and in 1971, the burned area was 351,294 ha.

Even if we use the presumably nominal annual property damage data from fires in British Columbia, there is also no sign of a significant trend in damage since 1971.  If the data is normalized to the rate of inflation, the correlation for property damage is declining toward less damage over time in real dollars, not more.

It is also very difficult to assign potential climate change impacts against forest fire trends, since forest management approaches play at least as great a role as climate.  But overall, the hysterical predictions in this government report – and the uncritical public broadcaster article that accompanies it – are not consistent with trends over the last four decades.