In the middle of February of this year, I accompanied Gord Chipman to look at salvaging of the timber burned on the Military reserve near Riske Creek. The Military reserve is approximately 40,000 hectares of mainly Douglas fir forest. It was established over seven decades ago by the federal government as one of many areas across the country for military field exercises. Gord manages two community forests along with the military reserve in the Williams Lake and Chilcotin areas.
As we drove through the estimated 15,000 hectares of burned timber there was a variety of burn intensities with very little timber remaining on some of the severely burned sites while other sites were providing good opportunities for salvage. Where it was possible the lightly damaged timber was left standing but time will tell is these trees will also die as it is feared that roots may be damaged by the intense heat.
We looked at a number of log decks that would have to be further processed to remove any burned buts that are not acceptable for lumber production (i.e. minimum burned material in the chips) and some more severely burned logs are not suitable for plywood production as the wood fibres are too dry and don’t produce sound veneer.
Gord and his forestry crew (turned fire fighters during the wild fires) had firsthand experience battling the blazes throughout the salvage area. They did manage to use fire guards and back burns to keep the fire out of some valuable stands but also witnessed intense burns that blew up and passed embers over three to four kilometres starting new fires making fire fighting very difficult as a well as dangerous.
They also had the opportunity to witness how properly thinned and pruned timber seem to provide a better fire guard than grass or shrub areas. While the latter areas had much less combustible material there were also much dryer and still carried a fire while the shaded environment with the associated higher humidity seemed to slow the fire advance. Something to think about in future fire guarding.
As with other fire -fighters they also witnessed the ability to deal with fires better pre10 a.m. high fire intensity when the winds picked up making fire- fighting difficult and sometimes very dangerous. When possible late afternoon and night time was preferred to the day time.
He also pointed out where he will be involved with the removal of fir beetle trees on the south slope facing Chimney Valley along Highway 20. The beetle attack has increased significantly in the past two years and the removal of the dead trees will work toward fire proofing the valley.
Gord also described a number of remote sensing tools that helped in the fire fighting and salvage planning and monitoring. The use of hot spot fire locations weather predictors were used to locate the fire lines which are often difficult to locate because of the dense smoke and winds etc. He was also using the high resolution of SPOT satellite images for the ongoing management of the salvage and planting programs.
Jim Hilton is a professional agrologist and forester who has lived and worked in the Cariboo Chilcotin for the past 40 years. Now retired, Hilton still volunteers his skills with local community forests organizations.