Is the Fire Demon Winning in B.C.?

LUKIN JOHNSTON December 1 1926

Is the Fire Demon Winning in B.C.?

LUKIN JOHNSTON December 1 1926

Is the Fire Demon Winning in B.C.?


ACROSS from Campbell River, on Vancouver Island, lies Gowland Harbor—a lovely little sheet of protected water, around the edge of which clusters a score of settlers’ homes. It is on Quadra Island, one of the hundreds of wooded islands which dot the waters of the Straits of Georgia and add so much to the charm of this famous waterway.

One afternoon in mid-August, when the little settlement at Gowland Harbor lay drowsing in the summer heat, dried up after weeks without rain, a settler was returning from Campbell River by launch. Ashe neared home he saw a thin wisp of smoke curling upward above the treetops which crown the ridge running north and south down the island. A stiff breeze from the north-west was springing up, turning the waters of the channel into a mass of white capped wavelets.

Before the settler reached his home that thin wisp had jjrown to a vast column of heavy, sulphurous smoke. The wind increased and within half an hour dense masses of black and gray smoke spread like a pall over land and sea. The sun hung like a red ball of fire glowing through the haze, and the air was charged with the fumes of burning fir and pine, hemlock and cedar.

From the point where the settler landed could be seen a great wall of flame bearing down on the little settlement at an amazing speed. Fanned by the increasing wind, the fire was spreading ever wider and wider. With a terrifying roar, like distant thunder, it swept on, hurling before it an advance guard of red-glowing embers. Tongues of vivid Jlame shot up to the tops of trees far ahead of it.

Is No need to sound the alarm!

Within a short time all the men in the neighborhood were on the job, battling with every ounce of strength with pick and shovel, clearing the underbrush and striving desperately to form a fire-break which might save their homes from the fire fiend.

Down by the waterside the women and youngsters hastily transferred what domestic chattels they could from the doomed homes to rowboats and launches.

On the eastern side of the island lay other settlements, whose destruction also seemed imminent. But by one of those strange freaks which are within the knowledge of every experienced fire-fighter, the eastern side of Quadra Island was untouched. To those who had been so miraculously saved it seemed incredible that that rushing tornado of flame could have been diverted by a narrow forest trail. Yet with the wind coming from exactly the right quarter, the fire rushed on down the western side of the ridge toward Gowland Harbor, leaving the eastern shore unharmed.

By nightfall the wind had died down and the weary fire-fighters were able to bring the fire to a halt. Butin its wake it had left some thousands of acres of splendid timberland a

mass of smouldering, blackened stumps; a score of settlers had lost their all, houses and chattels consumed, crops wiped out, their land rendered unproductive for years to come.

By the water some of the refugees camped that night, surrounded by the remains of their household goods.

In the morning an eager helper from a nearby island came across a Scottish settler and his wife sitting on the rocks opposite the site of what, a few hours before, had been their home.

“Are you both safe and well?” he asked.

“Aye, we’re a’ safe an’ unhurt, thankye,” said Sandy, “and we’ve saved the wee goat to gi’e us milk!”

The goat had been tethered to a log in shallow water, but morning disclosed the sad fact that Sandy had forgotten that the tide was rising!

The veteran forest ranger probably will tell you that

there is not much romance or real excitement in fire-fighting. It is not all like the fires one sees in the movies — great hurrying masses of flames leaping hundreds of yards at a single jump—he will tell you. Technically, he will say, fires are of several kinds. Most common are ‘ground fires’ which burn in the underbrush, destroy the roots and ruin the productivity of the soil. Then there is the spectacular, and more unruly, ‘crown fire’ which, when driven before the wind, jumps long distances over fire-breakB, roads or barren rocks.

There are ‘spot’ fires and ‘brush’ fires, too; each destructive and each requiring a different method of control.

But fighting forest fires calls often for courage and resource of a very high order. Last year one humble assistant ranger wrote his name large on the scroll of undying honor of the coast province. The name of Oliver C. Clark will go down in history as that of a hero who laid down his life for others as surely as though he had died on the field of battle.

In June, 1925, an outbreak occurred at Port Neville, in the Prince Rupert district. At first it was a small fire and there appeared no likelihood of its spreading. A breeze sprang up and reinforcements, with equipment, were rushed to the scene by launch. The fire had started in logging operations high up on the slope of a mountain. Near the water was a settlement, where 200 people, including women and children, lived in the summer months. Within a short time the flames were rushing down the mountain-side.

Then, when the blaze appeared almost under control, a strong hot easterly wind roared down the inlet without warning. It carried everything before it, whirling burning embers high in the air, some of the cinders settling across the fire-line and starting new fires on the west side of the camp.

Launches and rowboats were manned hurriedly and stood in to shore to take the women and children to safety.

Assistant Rarger Clark undertook to go back toward the blazing forest to make sure that all the women and children were out of the camp. He found several families. With cheery word he assisted terrified little ones and panic-stricken women into the boats.

Then he rushed back for a final inspection, as the flames roared among the houses. Through to the furthest limit of the settlement he went and then, satisfied that all were safe, he turned back to save himself.

But it was too late. Hours later they found Oliver Clark some d tance along the shore. He was lying over a log on the beach, just below high-water mark. His clothes were burned off his body to the tops of hi* boots. His face was buried in his hat which he had taken off and soaked in the salt water to cool hia scorched face and to help him to breathe. In his left hand was clutched his bronze badge of office.

Fortunately loss of life such as this is rare in forest fire-fighting, but the heroic sacrifice of Clark may be taken as typical of the spirit which animates the British Columbia Forestry Service.

A National Asset Menaced

'T'HESE pictures of forest fires on the British Columb'a coast may convey some faint idea of what such tragedies mean to the individual settler or timber-owner Scenes of terror similar to these are re-enacted in hundreds of cases all over the Pacific Province eveiy summer, bringing disaster and ruin to thousands.

But from the wider, national viewpoint the appalling ravages of the fire demon in the forests of British Columbia are no less disastrous. The preservation of the magnificent timberlands of that province is by no means a matter which solely concerns the people of our Pacific littoral. These forests are a national asset of enoimous value and their preservation is of vital economic importance to all Canada.

British Columbia to-dav possesses 350 billion feet of standing timber—more than seventy per cent, of the Dominion’s total resources. At present, with an annual cut of about two billion feet, the natural growth is slightly greater than the annual depletion.

But great expansion is taking place in all branches of the timber industry. Logging has increased 1,000 per cent, in the last few years Water-borne exports of lumber from British Columbia increased from 146,624,000 feet in 1920 to 577,560,000 feet in 1925, and for the first six months of tne current year the total reached the astounding figure of 456,000,000 feet.

Apart from the enormous shipments of lumber to the United States, that country is taking ever-increasing quantities of manufactured timber in the form of pulp and paper. From 46,000 tons in 1913, exports of paper rose to 158,000 tons last year; from ninety tons in 1911, pulp exports increased to 231,000 tons in 1925—and practically all of this has gone to the United States whose resources of pulp timber have been squandered in years gone by.

To the three prairie provinces of western Canada, preservation of British Columbia’s timber wealth is vital. Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta together have less than twenty-seven billion feet of timber. Not all of this by any means is suitable for building purposes and none of it has the qualities which have created a world-wide demand for British Columbia fir and spruce. With the increase of settlement on the prairies which is to be expected in the next few years, the demand for British Columbia lumber from that quarter may well be increased a hundred fold.

Of the 500,000 people in British Columbia, roughly ten per cent, depend for their livelihood on the timber industry in one form or another. More than $50,000,000 is paid out to these people in wages. The industry provides more than $3,500,000 of the total $18,500,000 income of the province.

The legitimate growth of the lumber industry cannot and should not be held back. Conservation and reforestation can be practised, but they will not be sufficient to prevent gradual depletion unless some means can be found to check the growing fire losses. And the fire losses are increasing!

Figures That Tell a Story

ALREADY one-half of the original L stand of timber in British Columbia has been destroyed by fire.

Last year one million acres of timber were burned, involving a property loss of $9,000,000 apart from the value of the timber destroyed, and calling for an expenditure of another $1,000,000 in fire-fighting costs.

Seventy-six per cent, of these fires were caused by man’s carelessness, which destroyed mature timber to the extent of one-quarter of the annual cut as well as 250,000 acres of immature timber.

In fifteen years, 15,298 fires have been recorded in British Columbia, destroying 4,500,000 acres of forest and causing, in addition, untold damage to property. Time was when little effort was made to check incip,ent forest fires. Timber was cheap !n those days. Settlers and those Interested in promoting settlement,

1 egarded the fire demon as an ally in

land-clearing operations. Those days of reckless extravagance have passed, giving place to an era of anxiety and tremendous effort to preserve this great heritage.

And Still the Demon Stalks

'TpHE alarming fact about the destruction of standing A timber by fire is that, despite increases in the protective force, despite ever increasing propaganda urging conservation and care, despite even more stringent rules governing logging camps during the season of hazard, the fire demon stalks through the forest with ever lengthening stride.

In support of this statement, are the figures given in the table printed in the next column.

It has to be kept in mind, however, that much more careful records are kept now than was the case fifteen, or even ten, years ago. Some portion of the increase in the number of fires recorded, as well as a proportion of the

causes assigned, no doubt is due to this system of closer checking.

In the case of fires due to lightning, for instance, it may be noted that the number grew from fortyeight in 1917 to 632 in 1925. Certainly, part of this increase was due to more careful checking, but it is also a curious fact that there has been an actual and serious increase of fires starting from this cause. In the storm of July 12, 1926, no less than 500 fires were started by lightning within twenty-four hours in the southern interior of British Columbia. The storm swept from Idaho northward to Revelstoke, setting fires all the way. On that day in the Blackfoot National Park, in Idaho, 165 lightning fires were started. Industrial concerns south of the international boundary have noted the great increase in the prevalence of forest fires due to lightning of late years, but have not been able toaccountsatisfactorily for the phenomenon.

The Forest Tragedy

DURING electrical storms which sweep the interior of British Columbia, terrifying experiences sometimes fall to the lot of fire-rangers in lonely look-out stations.

One such experience befell Fire-ranger Aubrey in charge of Eagle Pass look-out, one of the highest stations in the Salmon Arm district. The station is at an altitude of nearly 8,000 feet.

On a night in June, a storm came up from the south. The wind reached the proportions of a gale— bitter cold at that. Every few minutes the blackness was shattered by shafts of forked lightning which illuminated all the sea of mountains around. Thunder crashed and reverberated like the sound of a thousand cannon.

1911 1915 1919 1922 1926

Total number of fires 331 1,031 1,141 2,591 2,621

Area burned

over (acres) not given 244,189 433,797 1,568,885 1,028,78t

Standing timber destroyed (Thousands of feet,

board measure) 3,570 187,250 287,520 729,941 1,024,608

Damage to A ___

forests not given $108,873 $393,183 $1,531,300 $2,121,672

Damage to other _ ______

form property $47,000 $ 57,774 $347,787 $ 693,016 $ 626,291 Total damage ..... $166,647 $738,970 $2,224,316 $2,747,190

The years omitted from the above table, for convenience’ sák«, tend to confirm the progressive trend in the number of fires and extent of damage An exception should be made in the cas« of 1916, in which year the total damage from 864 fires totalled $78,875.

The fire-ranger was alone in his station, miles from any neighbor. Accustomed as he was to mountain storms, he realized that he was in imminent peril.

Down the precipice, the edge of which was close to the door of the look-ouf, a narrow pathway led to a ‘dug-out’ refuge. It was impossible for a man to stand before the gale, so he crept on hands and knees, clinging with bleeding hands to the jagged rocks as he made his way to the edge of the cliff. In utter blackness, save for the lightning which served only to blind him, he crept forward in what he believed to be the direction of the toepath. Feeling his way before him —he checked himself suddenly when his hand reached out into space!

Came a crash like the opening of a barrage; a sizzling whiteness was all about him—and thefire-ranger looked down 3,000 feet over the edge of the precipice. Another step and he must have fallen to certain death on the rocks below.

At last he reached the dug-out and remained there until the storm subsided. Returning to his look-out station, he found it wrecked as though hit by a 4.5 shell. Lightning had made a clean job of it.

Such an incident serves to illustrate the difficulties of fire-fighting in British Columbia but, for the moment, we are more concerned about the results of the struggle. In 1911 there were 331 fires. There has been a progressive increase year by year, with only minor setbacks, until in 1925, 2,521 fires were recorded, second only to the record of 2,591 fires in 1922. Analysis of the causes is still more disturbing. It is to be noted that fires caused by campers and travelers totalled 26$ in 1917. In 1925, 426 fires originated from this source alone. If means have not been found up to now to check the wanton carelessness of automobile tourists and hunters in British Columbia, what is going to happen in a few years’ time when the stream of tourist traffic is doubled and trebled?

Continued on page 38

Is the Fire Demon Winningin B.C.?

Continued from page 7

In 1925, 45,000 cars crossed into the province from the United States. This last summer the number increased _ to 55,000 cars which brought 195,000 visitors. Next spring will see the much-advertised Fraser Canyon Highway opened to the public. Tens of thousands of tourists will travel up the Pacific Highway to traverse this remarkable mountain road. They will go north for several hundred miles through the forests as far as Hazelton, 765 miles by road from Vancouver. For hundreds of miles they will be passing through some of the most valuable timber limits in the province, lands which hitherto have not been subject to the menace of the careless tourist. Heretofore the bulk of the fire losses have been sustained in what are known as the Vancouver and southern interior districts. These are the areas which have been most accessible to tourists. Next year the opening of the canyon highway will add seriously to the tourist menace.

Incidentally, the timber in the area traversed by the new highway lies within the Dominion railway belt, which extends for twenty miles on either side of the transcontinental railway line. It is, therefore, outside the control of the Provincial Forestry Branch. Nevertheless, as a potential forest-fire, danger area it constitutes an added risk to their own timber adjoining it to be borne by the provincial department.

Official figures state that fires due to industrial operations have increased progressively in the last ten years from fiftynine in 1917 to 137 in 1925. With logging operations expanding each year, the loss from this cause alone soon will amount to half the present annual destruction.

Strenuous efforts have been made by the Provincial Government and by operators themselves to check the number of fires caused by logging outfits. Protective efforts in some cases have taken the form of a complete shut-down of camps during danger periods. Scientific investigation has disclosed that the relative humidity is lowest between noon and six p.m. and that this period tallies with the records which indicate that fires originate mostly during the afternoon. Acting on this discovery many of the larger logging operators, instead of closing down completely, and throwing large numbers of men out of

work, have begun the day’s work at daylight, closing down before noon.

Equally significant in the table of causes of forest fires is the statement that fires of incendiary origin have increased steadily from thirteen in 1917 to 105 in 1925. This heading includes, of course, fires caused by settlers burning without permit, but it includes also a certain number of fires deliberately set. There have been cases, infrequent it is true, where it has been suspected that fires have been deliberately set by those who might expect to be employed in combatting them. Other cases occur where a settler sets fire to his grazing land to improve the pasturage and the flames get out of control and spread to the forest.

What Other Provinces Are Doing

IT WOULD by no means be true to say that the Provincial Government of British Columbia is not alive to the urgent need of checking the forest fire menace. The Forestry Branch has built up a very efficient ground force, in which there is a splendid spirit of loyalty and co-operation. But it is disturbing to find that British Columbia still relies on the more or less old-fashioned methods of mountain-top look-out stations and gasoline cruisers, while other provinces in the Dominion have taken full advantage of the development of aviation for protective purposes.

Ontario, with timber less valuable in the aggregate than that of British Columbia finds it worth while, after years of experiment, to maintain its own provincial air force for forest protection at an annual cost of hundreds of thousands dollars. If this is good business for Ontario, how is it that the Coast Province, which last year spent nearly $1,000,000 on forest protection, allotted only $6,000 for air protection in 1926?

Ontario—with a flying season limited to 200 days—can maintain a fleet of nineteen airplanes for patrol and prevention work. Last year the air force of that province totalled 2,738 flying hours on forest patrol and reconnaissance and detected more than 600 fires.

This summer the flying time of the British Columbia station of the Royal Canadian Air Force at Vancouver was cut down to 150 hours all told—this to include fishery protection work and whatever forest protection work was asked by the Provincial Forestry Branch.

Ontario thought it worth while to spend $150,000 on the erection and equipment of an air base at Sault Ste. Marie, and its Continued on page 40 Continued from page 38 original thirteen planes cost $6,600 each.

In Manitoba, where the timber wealth is not comparable to that of British Columbia, the Royal Canadian Air Force maintains a station at Victoria Beach with eight machines and a staff of sixty officers and mechanics. This station cost $200,000 in maintenance charges last year and was kept busy almost entirely in forest patrol and fire detection work, totalling 940 flying hours. It has been stated by Col. Stevenson, head of the Manitoba Forestry Department, that they would not be without the air service under any consideration.

In Quebec, though changes have come about recently, the Laurentide Air Services have done a large amount of forest protection work for the large timber and pulp concerns.

Is This a Remedy?

BRITISH COLUMBIA, to whom forest protection is so vital, with a terrain interspersed with lakes and waterways making first-class landing places for seaplanes, not only has no air force of its own, but is unable to obtain adequate protection from the Royal Canadian Air Force. Within the last few months the already undermanned station at Jericho Beach—the only all-year flying station in Canada—has been cut down still further. There are no machines available there capable of giving efficient service on forestry work. In the disastrous season of 1922 a number of flights were made and work of great value was done—even with the old machines available.

The fault does not lie entirely, if at all, with the British Columbia government. It is a fact that this province was one of the first to lend its support to aviation, having in mind its probable value as an insurance against forest fires. In 1921 and 1922 the British Columbia government allotted $20,000 a year for aerial

forest protection. Subsequently the allotment was cut down until now the amount so spent is negligible. The reason is that officials of the Forestry Branch do not believe they can get value for their money as long as the Royal Canadian Air Force equipment in British Columbia consists of outworn machines incapable of climbing to more than 6,000 feet with a 1,200-pound load and operated at very high cost. Their faith in aircraft as a most valuable supplementary to the old-fashioned system of look-outs does not waver, but it is hopeless without up-to-date equipment.

In the opinion of competent judges, aerial patrol of British Columbia’s forests would be of the greatest value. A lookout posted on a mountain peak can easily miss a score of outbreaks within a lew miles of him if they happen to be hidden in valley bottoms. A continuous aerial patrol in time of hazard would be far more efficient than the existing look-out system.

There is authority for the statement that an efficient aerial patrol of the British Columbia coast area, where seventy-five per cent, of the fire loss occurs, could be maintained at an annual cost of $20,000. The equipment required would consist of two modern machines especially suited to the work, such as Videttes, or the latest single-seater planes, designed and built in Canada for forest protection. A payroll of $1,500 a month would provide all the personnel required to give a minimum of 200 flying hours during the season of greatest danger.

Lack of funds and proper equipment should not be allowed to stand in the way of more adequate protection for this great national asset. Not only is the continued prosperity of British Columbia dependent on controlling the enormous annual fire loss, but all Canada is vitally interested in seeing that no step is left untaken which may help to preserve such a priceless heritage as British Columbia’s magnificent forests.