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Wilderness Adventures - June,Week 3 & 4/2009

This is about a remote area in west central British Columbia, Canada called the West Chilcotin. Surrounded by numerous glacial mountain ranges, alpine lakes teeming with wild Rainbow Trout, and full of wildlife. Living here goes from no running water or electricity to spacious log homes with all the conveniences and without the smog!
If you would like to see pictures of wildlife, mountains, lakes, exciting snowmobiling, events and more, and read stories like 'Lake Monsters' about the Lakesounds just go into Archives on the lower left side of this page.

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Check out the Picture of the Day.

30/06/2009 7:52 PM


I guess I have to eat my words from the last article. I had been extremely disappointed that the new MLA for the Cariboo Region had not gotten back to me after I sent her a couple of emails regarding the lookouts. But one of our locals that campaigned for her got hold of Donna Barnett and made it clear that none of us were happy with the lack of communication from our political representative. I came home to a message yesterday asking that I call her and I got to bend her ear for a bit explaining that we were getting a real run-around from the Cariboo Fire Center.
To give her credit, she had actually already contacted the Minister of Forests after receiving my email but hadn't heard word back from the Ministry yet, and she hadn't communicated that to me. I'm pleased that she was willing to listen to me and make an effort to get to the bottom of the whole thing. It has restored some of my faith in the political system. Now I guess we'll see where things go from here.
We had a really nice day to today. We've had some good frosts the last couple of nights that have wiped out a few people's plants. I was feeling a bit smug yesterday morning after seeing mine had not been affected, but this morning was a different matter. My potatoes got nailed, although not badly, so they should come back as long as the buds weren't damaged. I hope.
We had pretty clear skies for most of the day and the temperature actually made it over 13C or 55F today and it would have been warmer had the wind not switched from out of the south to out of the north. It was a really chilly breeze and felt like it was out of the north! It sure keeps the mosquitoes down, though.
The jet stream has dipped down right over us which is why we and the rest of central BC is cold compared to southern BC which is in a heat wave. I expect it will warm up for us eventually, though if that high continues to build in off the coast.

28/06/2009 5:56 PM

Capping Forestry's Stories

We're still looking for ways to wake up the Cariboo Fire Center as our lack of Forestry lookouts has still not been addressed. A letter was sent by some Public Affairs Officer, one Jennifer McLarty, to one of our inquiring locals and contained even more drivel than the claims made by the Fire Center's Information Officer. Actually, a lot of it was identical to information that had been handed off to the Tribune reporter, all of which I had already refuted. They must have this set list of things to tell the public that they reconstitute over and over again in the mistaken belief that we'll swallow it. So this Public Affairs Officer goes into a long drawn out explanation on how the lightning detection system works and then states:
"In a majority of cases, the system will identify a fire start before someone in a lookout."
Excuse me? The detection system cannot identify whether a fire has started or not. The Fire Centers have to send resources to an area identified as having a cluster of lightning strikes in order to find out if a fire started. And a fire may have started but show little or no sign for days if a fire is burning slowly in the duff. The Fire Centers are not going to keep sending bird dogs to the same area for the next few weeks. But a lookout can detect a smoke immediately upon a fire flaring up.
She also said:

"For the most part, technology (like the Canadian Lightning Detection Network and cellular phones) has replaced the need for look outs."
I think I just answered that one. See above. In addition to that, the Chilcotin has no cell phone service so this person obviously has no clue where we are, what our geography is, what we face from fire hazards, and that we do not have the technology this person is apparently accustomed to elsewhere.
What gets me the most is how these people talk as though the Canadian Lightning Detection Network is the be all, end all. How it's replaced lookouts and they act as though this is a brand new system and we're supposed to be fooled by that.
Here's the facts, Jack.
According to the Meteorological Service of Canada (Website address for this information is
: The Canadian Lightning Detection Network In Canada, provincial forest protection agencies set up individual lightning detection networks in the early 1980s. The Canadian Lightning Detection Network is largely unchanged from when it was first installed Canada wide in 1998. Two additional sensors were added in the Yukon in 2003. (If you're interested in looking at a map on the final page of this document, you will see that our area is in a region where the lightning detection efficiency is only 70%, indicating that 30% of lightning strikes are not detected.) So that means this technology has been used throughout Canada virtually unchanged for the past 11 years and we've still had our forestry tower lookouts that whole time. Well now, I find that odd, don't you?
More information included in this manuscript is:
During the summer of 2003, fires caused by lightning partially enveloped numerous communities in British Columbia, causing insured property damage that exceeded $150M. Nationally in 2002, 46% of forest fires in Canada were caused by lightning while across western and northern Canada, approximately 70% of forest fires are caused by Lightning. That would indicate far more fires are caused by lightning here in western Canada than elsewhere, yet this is what this Public Affairs Officer has to say:
"Nearly every fire start this season has been the result of human carelessness. The activity we’re seeing is a strong reminder of why people need to play it safe with campfires and other forms of authorized burning. The best way to fight fires is prevent them in the first place."
Well, now. Who to believe?
I go to pretty much every day, particularly when the weather is hot, dry, and conditions are right for lightning. While there is literally no action on the site right now because of the cool, moist weather, there was lots a week or more ago. Every day under Current Statistics, the Cariboo Fire District was showing 20 new fires one day, 5 new fires another day, 6 the next day. Not one was human caused. All were caused by lightning strikes. It's common to see far more human caused fires in very populated areas such as on Coastal, and the Kamloops area, but far more rarely for other areas in BC.
Now go to the link at the bottom of the Current Statistics page, to Average number of fires by cause for the past ten years. Or look at the table below.

Fire Stat table
Sadly, there is no break down between areas, so keep in mind that this table includes highly populated areas that historically account for more human caused fires than lightning caused as compared to the Cariboo Fire District, and still the numbers show that most years lightning strikes account for more fires than humans. Don't forget, she said: "Nearly every fire start this season has been the result of human carelessness". So where are these people representing Forestry and the Fire Protection Branch getting their numbers? Well apparently not off their own websites!
And finally, this McLarty states that:
"However, the Ministry is looking at keeping three to four lookouts. These towers would provide coverage for the Anahim/Nimpo Lake area and could be manned in cases of confirmed storm activity."
Well folks, we've had confirmed storm activity in the area and warnings that we were going to get lightning storms, and still no towers manned, even part time.
Now for contradictions between what Pickell and McLarty say.
I pointed out before that Cariboo Fire Center's Grace Pickell stated that each lookout had to spot three fires a year in the last three years or 15 fires over three years. Remember when I said that the statistics are generally mapped out over a five or ten year period and that it seemed awfully suspicious that the Cariboo Fire Center would use a three year period? Unless you took into consideration the Lonesome Lake fire one year before and the hundreds of other fires in this area caused by lightning that summer. A similar situation existed the summer before that when we had the Tatla and Chilko fire as well as numerous other fires also caused by lightning. However, it would seem the Cariboo Fire Center was determined to avoid that time period by taking it down to three years. However, Public Affairs Officer McLarty states:
"To be deemed effective, the towers had to have discovered at least three fires annually, or 15 fires over five years, within a 30 kilometre radius."
Hmmm...... Funny how the Ministry of Forests and Range is using the proper period of time for those statistics and contradicts the time period used by the Cariboo Fire Center. But what I find even more amazing is that this same person also claims that only one tower met that criteria and it was out here west of Williams Lake. (Yet still, none are manned even though the criteria has been met.) I find that extremely hard to believe because when I was on radio dispatch during the McClinchy fire when numerous lightning strikes were starting fires, the towers were reporting in with smoke sightings along with the resources in the air and on the ground at the time. I'll have to look up my old transcripts that I kept while dispatching for those few days. They're buried deep in my office here somewhere but I'm positive I noted Kappan giving sightings over that three day period. We've also heard the towers call in sightings on the radio during fire season and no doubt that's on transcript somewhere. The Freedom of Information Act could force those to be brought to light. But of course it won't be. It would seem the Cariboo Fire Center and company are masters of misinformation and are convinced that we're stupid enough to fall for whatever they wish to feed us. That's because they're 'officials' you know. And my experience with 'officials' is that they're arrogant as hell and dumber than a sack full of hammers. They just don't realize it. There's a lot of similarity to politicians.....
Speaking of which, I still have not heard back from our new MLA, Donna Barnett. It's a shame she got in if this is the kind of attention or help that our communities can expect from her. One thing I had to give to Charlie Wyse, regardless of your political inclination, whether NDP or Liberal, that guy fought his heart out for the Cariboo District. If you contacted him for any reason, you got an answer back in fifteen minutes.
It's time to shake things up again, I guess. It all comes down to a single question that the Cariboo Fire Center has been sidestepping the entire time. What happened to those positions that the taxpayer paid for, that are normally filled by Forestry Tower Lookouts????

27/06/2009 7:39 PM

June Moving Fast

Hi Everyone. I apologize yet again for the long intermission but as is usual, things have been pretty busy. I'm afraid a good part of the summer is probably going to be like this with lulls between articles, and when I can warn you, I will. I know it's probably irritating to folks that check the blog every day for a new story, only to find nothing day after day. The same goes for the part time residents that like to keep up on what's happening here, but summers really are short and you have to make hay when the sun is shining. Or at least when there's no snow on the ground as the sun hasn't always been shining of late.
Our weather has been mixed. We got a little over a quarter of an inch of rain this past week between one little rain shower and another. More importantly, the air temperature has been cool, there hasn't been a lot of wind, there's been more cloud than sun, and there's been a heavy dew in the mornings. All of which suppresses forest fire starts. That may change over the next few days. A brisk wind started up today and although it was mixed sun and cloud this morning with a high haze, it cleared out this afternoon and this evening. Our best temperature has only been about 13C today and that may have been in the sun. It would seem a cold front has moved in and may be around for a day or two, but there's also a high pressure system building, and that could bring warmer temperatures. That, with a wind drying things out, could put us back into the same forest fire danger we were facing a couple of weeks ago because we've still received so little moisture.
I've had quite a few people from Nimpo Lake and Charlotte Lake comment on the article I put in the Tribune refuting the Fire Center's claims as well as the blogs written on that subject. I really appreciate that you guys are reading both and like what's been written, but don't forget, you can be extremely effective if you email or phone them as well. In a conversation with another local, I found out the Fire Center is claiming no one has complained to them about no lookouts being manned, even though we have.
One person from here that complained about the lack of lookouts and inquired about how the lightning detection service was supposed to work better than lookouts, was sent a letter from the Public Affairs Officer of Ministry of Forests and Range. I asked to read it and it would seem everyone is issuing the same tired old rhetoric with some dressed up details. It pretty much beat the same horse to death that the Cariboo Fire Center's Information Officer had already taken a shot at, but there was some tidbits that conflicted with Pickell's information, or should we call it misinformation? Stats that I had pinpointed as being deliberately misleading in the June 15 blog below. I will address that in the next blog or else this is going to be way too long. Instead, I'll catch everyone up.
The fishing in Nimpo Lake is still terrific from everyone I've talked to and the trout are definitely fattening up since the fishing derby this spring. The Bella Coola Rodeo is on this weekend so a few locals are going to take advantage of everyone busy at the rodeo to do some salmon fishing down there.
Last week the rivers were running really high and the water was murky because of the remarkable snow pack melt in the mountains. But I understand both the Atnarko and Bella Coola Rivers have settled down in the past week and the fishing is good. Just not during the week. That's when the natives put their nets across the river mouths and few fish get through. You and every other fisherman can stand on the banks fishing until Hades freezes over and you won't catch a thing. But the nets are supposed to be pulled on Thursday nights so the weekend is the only time to go at this time of year.
The Williams Lake Stampede is also on this long weekend, although things must be a little awkward this year when it comes to time off, since the holiday isn't actually until Wednesday. Anahim Lake Stampede always follows the WL Stampede by one week so it should be on next weekend. I guess I missed the water skipping this year. Someone said it was going to be the weekend following the canoe races but I never heard another thing about it until it was too late. So no pictures of drowning snowmobiles this year folks!
Leah and I went walking in the woods a couple of days ago and came across a fresh set of tiny deer tracks. I didn't realize how fresh until we heard a crack in the underbrush and the dogs disappeared. Two came back when I called but two didn't. A few minutes later the they did, both foaming at the mouth and grinning ear to ear. Needless to say I only had one leash with me but one dog went straight on it while I made the other stay close after that. From now on, I won't let them out of my sight. Chances are they were chasing the deer, which could easily outrun them, but I don't want them to think they can get away with that. They're both lucky they were allowed to live once I got them back home.
On our way back home from looking for rocks yesterday, Andy and I saw two deer, quite small, near a neighbour's place. They ran off the road but not far, then stood back in the trees and watched us. To me they definitely looked like White tail deer, but they didn't show their flags when they ran. Today, our next door neigbhour saw them just outside of our property line, and he swears they're White tail Both he and his wife saw their flags when they bounded off. (For anyone that doesn't know, White tail deer have bright white fur on the underside of their tails. When they take off away from you, they normally throw their tails straight up into the air and their tails look like bright waving flags when they bound away.) It's highly unusual to see White tail deer here since this is Mule deer country, but quite a few people have reported seeing them farther and farther north of the Tatlayoko Valley, which is where they're usually found. They're sure tiny!
While the mosquitoes seem to be extremely appreciative of this cool, misty weather we've had, they're still no where near as bad as they were last year, although the crop that we pulled out of the Mosquito Magnet is scary. Nothing like owning a lunch bag full of thousands of mosquitoes, and that's our second take this year. I wonder if we could sell them as souvenirs up at the store?
We had a marvelous dinner cooked over the fire at the neighbour's last night and we ran into more than one mosquito there. When there was a good breeze blowing, it wasn't bad at all because the fire pit is on an open hillside overlooking Nimpo Lake, but when it did die down..... all I can say is Thank Heavens for ball caps and bug repellent. But that's typical in this country at this time of year. During the day the mozzies aren't bad at all, especially if the sun is shining as it did all day yesterday. (Our first fully sunny day in quite a few.) But once it starts cooling down the bugs come out and they pretty much own the evening. Bugs or not, you couldn't beat the terrific evening. Listening to loons and other quackers, watching an osprey circle the bay hunting for a late supper, and just enjoying the view while sitting around the campfire with good company, just cannot be matched by anything else. We may miss some amenities offered in the city like the movies, restaurants, museums and Center of the Arts, but you may keep your Philharmonic. I'll take campfire loons any day!

22/06/2009 7:41 PM

The Rain

Mother Nature finally helped us out on Friday with nearly a half an inch of rain and some cloudy weather. It reached freezing for a couple of nights and our temperatures have remained pretty cool throughout the day. I don't think I've seen it above 17C for nearly a week now and with mixed sun and cloud, it just doesn't heat up the way it did the week before that. Today our wind has been switching back and forth, first blowing out of the west and then out of the north, and a north wind is almost always a cool one for us.
We're expected to have unsettled weather for another few days, but even unsettled, it's still been pretty nice. A cooler breeze definitely helps with keeping the mosquitoes down. They got pretty voracious after the last rain we had so having cold nights has helped a lot as well.
There were a few fishing boats out on Nimpo Lake for the Father's Day weekend, but this lake just doesn't see the pressure it did years ago which means the fishing is generally good. From what I've been hearing for the last week, it's been just fabulous lately with folks limiting out with good sized fish fairly quickly. We should get out there, but there's just been too much on our plate.
We had guests from England staying in the cabin for a couple of days and we just managed to get it done in time for them. They went flightseeing with the floatplane charter on Saturday and really, really enjoyed seeing the country. They were great people and we enjoyed their visit, but they had no sooner left the yard than we looked at each other and said, "Okay, what project do we start on next?" I've decided we have no life. We live in one of the prettiest places on earth but we're too busy to enjoy it. Either we have to cut back on the projects, or work like hell to get them all done so that we can start enjoying where we live.
We discovered a couple of days ago that we have a new baby loon in the back bay. This is the first time in a long time that the back bay pair have had a baby that has lived this long. The bald eagles have been making regular passes over the mother and baby looking for an opportunity to swoop in. The mother is pretty paranoid and warns of anyone or anything being around. I guess you can't blame her. It's been a real struggle for that pair to keep babies for the last few years. I was walking back on the trail yesterday and noticed a broken egg on the ground less than a 100 feet from the bay. There was scat right around it and since it's the right size to be a loon egg, I'm assuming something got it out of Momma Loon's nest and took off with it. That could have been anything from a gull or raven grabbing it, to a fox, coyote, otter, marten, fisher, or any number of other small, furry creatures that like free meals.
Bald eagles are probably the biggest danger to the baby loon right now, and there's one immature eagle in particular. I watched him wing over the lake in front of our place with a fish in his claws. He had a mature eagle chasing behind him as he crossed our peninsula and the back bay and headed toward the Dean River. It didn't take long for the mature eagle to take his fish from him and he was back over the bay circling the loons looking for a meal he could keep, which made the loons none too happy.
There's a war again this year between the tree swallows and the chickadees. I still can't figure out what's happening there. It seems obvious that the tree swallows are nesting in a little house we have hanging on the tree, but just like last year, at least one chickadee goes in there. I don't know if he's looking for the sunflower seeds he cached in there all winter, taking a boo at the swallow eggs or babies in there, whether he also has eggs in there, or is looking for a place to nest and doesn't really care if it's already occupied. The swallows sure don't like it, anyway.

18/06/2009 8:14 PM

Wind and Sprinkles

Hi Folks! I've been pretty busy and couldn't write, but I figured it would take you all a while to get through that book I wrote on the last blog.
We've been really fortunate in that our weather has cooled down a little. Since Monday we've had mixed cloud and sun with the odd little sprinkle of rain. Just enough to bring on the mosquitoes but not enough to register in the rain gauge. And we've had enough wind that the moisture is carried away almost immediately so it's been no help in the event of a forest fire. The cooler temperatures and a little bit of dew on the ground do help though. I think it got down to 3 degrees above freezing last night which is pretty cool.
While the day time temperature has been averaging around 17C lately, today it got up to 21C or 70F and we saw lots of sun. I think that the wind has done a lot to keep things cooler and as a result, I haven't heard much in the way of thunder lately, and that's a good thing.
While it's windy during the day it's gone still at night, as usual. Quite late the night before last I went out onto the deck to retrieve the cat and couldn't help but notice how beautiful it was. The sky was full of stars, you could hear the plop, plop of fish jumping and rolling for bugs in the lake, and then the loons started up. They cackled up and down the lake doing a little late night sing along as they often do, and then the last mournful cry fades across the lake, much like the last bit of Taps blown on a horn. Since the sun doesn't go down until 9:30 and there's still light in the sky at 11:00 at night, you have to wait until pretty late to enjoy true nightfall, but it's certainly worth it.

15/06/2009 12:21 PM

Refuting the Claims of the Cariboo Fire Center

As per Erin Hitchcock's article in the Williams Lake Tribune: I have to disagree with claims made by the Cariboo Fire Center. (You may wish to refer to last week's article called Forestry Putting Our Lives in Danger posted on June 6 at June Week One which will give you an idea of what I'm talking about here.)
First of all, the Information Officer for the Cariboo Fire Center, Grace Pickell, said that not all of the Forestry Lookouts will be manned this year, but does state that three or four will be staffed. Yes? And when would that be? Environment Canada has already stated that BC has seen the hottest, driest first week of June since record keeping began over 70 years ago. Of the nine forest fire lookouts in the Cariboo Fire District, none have been manned. So what are they waiting for? A fire???
The whole idea of having the lookouts manned is for a fire to be spotted and resources allocated to it as soon as humanely possible, not after the fire has reached 2000 or more hectares.
We've had winds, extremely dry weather, an unheard of amount of fuel standing and on the forest floor thanks to the Mountain Pine Beetle, and a lot of thunderstorms, i.e. lightning. This, of all years, is the one where you want to have lookouts in place by the middle of May.
Pickell states that the criteria for manning the Forestry towers depends on the lookouts reporting at least three fires a year or 15 fires over three years. Since when???? First of all, those statistics are historically based on five, ten, and fifteen year terms. Why would you choose to use only the last three years? I'll tell you why. Because the last three out of four years have been so wet in the Chilcotin that you couldn't start a fire in the woods if your very survival depended on it. I've been recording rainfalls of 19 and 26 inches, etc. in the summer months alone in the Nimpo Lake area for the past four years. That's unheard of! This year is much more like a normal year for us because we're normally arid on the Chilcotin Plateau as we're in the rain shadow of the Coast Mountains. Of course the lookouts aren't going to report fires. With the exception of a fire north of Anahim Lake in 2006, there was very little fire activity.
Now if you were to take the stats back five years as they should have been, that's whole different story. But the Cariboo Fire Center is going to avoid doing that because we wouldn't want to bring up the 2004 Lonesome Lake Fire and the 15 million dollar boondoggle which ensued due to a combination of error on both the part of the Cariboo Fire Center and Parks. That's the fire that burned out John Edwards, who's father, known as the 'Crusoe of Lonesome Lake, helped bring the Trumpeter Swans back from extinction.
In April of that year we had a fire on our road that would have gotten out of control and burned us all out if it had not been for the quick action of the locals. We had fire pumps, the water truck from the mill, the Anahim Band's water truck, and lots of people on the ground fighting that fire within minutes of it starting and it still took off. The local fire warden showed up with his IA crew quickly enough, but they were caught so flat footed that all they had in the back of the truck to fight the fire was sleeping bags.
On June 20 I looked across the lake toward the mountains and noticed occasional small puffs of smoke coming up down around McClinchy. That's looking straight out my front window and we had been watching the skies for two months because of the high fire danger. I called it in to the Cariboo Fire Center and the lookout on Kappan had already spotted it. By the 21st and 22nd of June, fires were exploding all over the place because of lightning storms. That's also when the Lonesome Lake fire actually started but wasn't put out at the time.
By that time I was manning the radio and recording dispatches for Forestry and there were a lot of fires being called in. There were a lot of fire fighters on the ground, and Bird Dogs, helicopters and tankers in the air, so they were calling in fires continuously, but so were the lookouts. However, unless there is a fire that's being fought and those resources are in the air at the time, the only ones out there spotting fires 24 hours a day are those people in the Forestry lookout towers.
Since I'm assuming that the decision to not man the towers was made last fall as the fire centers do their planning for the next fire season several months ahead, then you might want to take the stats back a full five years from 2008 to 2003. That would put us on the Tatla Lake fire which burned across Highway 20, taking out the power for the Chilcotin at the same time. It wasn't even contained yet when the Chilko Lake fire took off and became the largest fire in British Columbia. It was also the year of the Kelowna and Barrier fires and they overshadowed the Chilko Lake fire, which still became an interface fire.
It is not only unlikely but impossible that the lookouts at Vedan, Chilanko and Kappan didn't report at least three fires for each of those two years. And by the way, Pickell says that only one fire tower met their three year criteria and that was one west of Williams Lake. That would be one of the three listed above, but even having met the fire center's criteria, none are manned. Oh, and she also mentions that the other towers besides the three or four that will be manned (and haven't been yet) will be staffed in the event of storm activity. Excuse me??? What would you call what we and the entire Cariboo Chilcotin have been experiencing in the past week or two? I don't think I've ever heard this much thunder rolling around out here in June with the exception of in 2004. The weather forecasters have been calling for thunderstorm and lightning activity throughout the interior on the news nearly every evening!
I have to address Pickell's next comment, which is ludicrous if you bother to look at it. She states that technology has replaced a lot of the need for lookouts as they subscribe to a lightning detection service through Environment Canada. Are you kidding me? Who wrote her script??!!
Aside from the fact that the detection service is not accurate, especially if you don't have sensors in place, whether it reports lightning activity or not is irrelevant. Everyone pretty much knows when there's lightning activity, the point is, did it start a fire? This detection service doesn't report in with a, "Hello? ummm, we have a little fire here at these coordinates....." It may pinpoint where lightning strikes hit but the information doesn't do anyone a damned bit of good unless you go check it out. And who's going to do that? Well let's study the resources available.
If you have 200 lightning strikes in a large region, is a Bird Dog going to go up and check out every one of those coordinates listed? No, it's impossible. All a spotter plane can do is fly around the area and look for smoke. A lookout can do that but more efficiently, more consistently, and at a much lower cost. You're the taxpayer here. Lets look at the numbers.
I'm assuming that even with benefits, the total cost to Fire Protection to man a lookout is probably $200 a day. I'm not sure who provides food, etc. to the lookout, but I don't imagine the cost is much more than that. Know how much a fixed wing aircraft costs to run? Well, checking out the operating costs of our charters here, it has to be at least $350 per hour. If you're using a helicopter, you're paying much closer to $1000 per hour. But lets use the cheap guy to be fair.
So the spotter plane goes up and flies around. The Chilcotin is a big place. The Cariboo Chilcotin is a really big place. But let's use just the Chilcotin region for now that has coverage from the lookouts. Minimum flying time straight across country from Williams Lake to Anahim Lake is one hour to get here and one hour back. But don't forget, we want some coverage here so you have to fly a grid of sorts to spot a smoke in such a large area. Sorry folks, but I can't see that taking less than four or five hours. But what if a fire starts after the plane has passed by? Will he pick it up on his way back? Possibly. But chances are pretty good one of the lookouts will spot the smoke as quickly as he.
So the spotter has been out for lets say... four hours. Cost to the taxpayer, $1400 plus, versus $200 plus, and he's far less efficient for the money, because he's only making one pass. The person in the lookout tower is scanning every horizon every few minutes, potentially for 24 hours a day. If there is a lot of lightning activity, one has to presume that the Cariboo Fire Center isn't going to throw us to the wolves and will actually send at least two patrols out this way in one day. Now we're up to $2800 and a fire can still start at any place at any time where the spotter is not. Add more than one spotter into the equation for coverage of the entire Cariboo Fire District during storm activity, compare their cost to that of manning the lookout towers with less efficient coverage, and it's really not cost effective. Which is probably why British Columbia has had forest fire lookout towers manned for years and years..... until this year, anyway.
We're not even going to go near Pickell's statement about manning the lookout towers as being a personal safety issue. It has never been an issue. Someone threw that in as another excuse thinking it looked good rather than like bull hockey.
In Pickell's nearly final statement, she does say that although the Lightning Detection Network only detects lightning, more than half of the fires in BC are detected by the general public or someone flying overhead will see it. That makes lots of sense because a lot of BC is occupied by a lot of people. But I've got news for you, Sweetheart! Not out here.
Tweedsmuir Park, which is just a little piece of real estate in the Chilcotin, comprises 981,000 hectares or 2.4 million acres. Our area can swallow several smaller US States or half of Washington State, yet last time I checked, our population still stood at only around 3000 people or less in the West Chilcotin. Compare that to somewhere around four million people in the rest of the province. Our huge chunk of real estate might sit on a plateau, but we've got a lot of rolling hills and we're ringed with some major mountain ranges. Add massive forests, and we can't see jack from the ground. I have a great view of a lake and a mountain range out my front window, but because of trees on either side, my view probably takes in 90 degrees of surrounding country max. If I go out the back door I have a view of another mountain range, some hills, and the rest of the view is blocked by hills and trees. Everyone has pretty much the same view or less of a one out here. We can't see anything for the trees... literally. And it isn't for lack of trying during forest fire season, because we all keep an eye out, but unless there's a really big smoke out there, we can't see it.
We have charter planes on the lake and at a time when tourism was busy and they were flying all over the country, it's true that they could spot and report a smoke to the Cariboo Fire Center. But there's very little business out there right now in these economic times and the planes go up very little now. The odd time Mike King over at White Saddle has to take a run through here and can spot a smoke from the helicopter, but again, we've seen little sign of him this year.
We are not on a major flight path. In fact, we're not even on a minor one. The jocks from Comox go up and play on cloudy days doing maneuvers with the fighter jets, but that's only occasional. We see very few big jets go over and the ones that do are so high they wouldn't have a clue as to whether a smoke they're seeing is normal or not, but I'd bet money that they never report in unless it's already a monster fire that everyone already knows about.
We often get the smoke from fires anywhere south of us including big fires in California. Since we end up with a smoke haze on our horizon, it's virtually impossible for us to spot a new smoke. In contrast, the lookouts can. Andy was up at the Kappan lookout a week or so ago when we had a lot of smoke from the Lilloet fire and we couldn't see a thing down here. But pictures he took show that you can see a smoke rising up through the haze from the lookout tower quite easily. So contrary to what Pickell says, our sparse population, huge area, and geographic lay of the land generally prevents us from seeing a fire until it's well on its way. In contrast, a lookout can see a smoke and a response can be coordinated immediately. Or as immediately as possible which is not so very fast now that our nearest Initial Attack crew is at Puntzi.
We have all worked desperately to clear our properties of beetle killed trees and other fuels. Many of us own fire pumps and hoses and are willing to take them wherever needed. After the Lonesome Lake debacle I believe that most of us have our fire strategies in place in case of a forest fire. We have our phone tree in place and people from each community that can take the RCMP around to all occupied properties to ensure everyone knows there is a forest fire and that there may be evacuation alerts. We're also working on an early warning alarm system for our own community. We've done our part, and I would like to know why the Cariboo Fire Center refuses to do theirs.
As stated to me by the Fire Control Officer at the Center, it's a budget concern. Hogwash. As far back as I can remember, there has always been a budget in place for fire lookouts and there still is a budget in place for the lookouts to be manned. Those positions exist. So what happened to them and what are they being used for if not to man the lookouts?
The people in this region feel that they have been hung out to dry and are expected to rely on Mother Nature to save their properties rather than on early fire detection and fire protection for which they pay taxes. Some of the community associations are setting up meetings to see what can be done. But I know this much. Should there be a forest fire out here that results in loss of property or life, we will hold the Fire Protection Branch and the head of the Cariboo Fire Center personally responsible. I am still working hard to bring this to the attention of the media, the MLA, and other government agencies. Wish me luck.

14/06/2009 7:12 PM

Dance Recital/Forestry

There was an article in the Williams Lake Tribune last week by Erin Hitchcock about the Forestry Fire Lookouts not being manned, which has a lot of incorrect, or lets call it misleading, information in it. No fault of Erin's. The reporter simply wrote what he or she was fed by Grace Pickell, the Information Officer at the Cariboo Fire Center. I'll concentrate on refuting that article tomorrow. For right now, I want to do a story about last night's Dance Recital.
Marie Jones teaches Chilcotin students, that range from little tykes to adults, how to dance, and can they ever! At the end of each dance year, she holds a dance recital so that the students can show off their stuff. I believe she said she held recitals in Alexis Creek, Tatla Creek, Anahim Lake, and then it was Nimpo's turn last night.
There aren't many things in our little communities that will bring in a packed house, but the Community Hall was definitely full last night with standing room only in the end. Perhaps because we don't see a lot of the 'cultured' stuff (for want of a better term) out here. There's the odd Bingo to raise money, and a dance or two a year, with sometimes a Memorial held in someone's memory, and hopefully a wedding reception this fall. It's been a long time since the hard driving parties and dances our Community Halls used to see where all nighters were not uncommon, but with the possible exception of Stampede time, that's pretty much nonexistent now.
The kids (there was only one adult and she did a great tap dance) performed a variety of routines that included jazz, ballet, and tap dancing. Marie goes all out with a printed program and there were several performances on the program, but they are short and time flies by really fast. You kind of get engrossed in the performances, thinking, "Wow!! Our local kids can do that!!?" We were only there for an hour and a half but got to see great dancing and awesome costumes. Many of us moaned in agony when we saw some of the moves during the dances. They were doing stuff my back doesn't even want to think about. But the kids did great! All were good but I marveled at the really young kids like the little girl at the top who did The Good Ship Lollipop. She did a wonderful job for being such a little tyke and the three little ones in the picture under her were awesome in everything they did. Their timing was absolutely amazing!
The only downside of the evening was that with so many people in the building, it got pretty hot in there. We had to keep the doors shut for lighting purposes and of course, to keep the mosquitoes out. They would have had a heyday in there with all those people stuffed into one place. As a result, there was a mass exodus into cooler air once the show was over. If we were going to have more events in the summer, we should see if we can rig up a net curtain over the doors to keep the air circulating in the Hall. Mind you, it's not often that we have a June as hot as this one!
It was another barn burner today much like it has been since I last wrote four days ago. Incidentally, I apologize for that but as I mentioned before, when it's nice like this I'm working outside all day, and working on the computer in the evenings. I've hit a major deadline this weekend so now I can stay up on the blog a little more.
We haven't seen rain since we had those thunderstorms a few days ago, and it remains hot. Surprisingly, even as hot and dry as it is, we haven't had thunderheads building like we did last week.... yet. We have had a breeze lately and that may be keeping the air circulating.
I picked a bunch of morels out in the woods when I went for a walk yesterday and we had a feed of them with supper last night. They were yummy enough that I took a bag with me on my walk today so that I could pick some more. Boy, they're hard to see because they look so much like pine cones on the forest floor.
That same forest floor is scary. The lichen and the duff under it is dry as a bone and there are several inches of red pine needles built up on the ground from all of the beetle killed trees. It is so dry and crunchy, and the needles and lichen so brittle, it's like walking on a forest fire waiting to happen. I don't think I've seen it this dry in several years and we are going to be in serious trouble when, not if, a forest fire occurs. Things are going to go up fast!
Last week's articles are at June Week One including the article called Forestry Putting Our Lives in Danger which is a precursor to tomorrow's article.

The purpose of this web site is to draw attention to a remote area of west central British Columbia. It is a beautiful area that relies heavily on tourism. The search engines don't know much about the West Chilcotin, Anahim Lake, Nimpo Lake or any of the other small communities in the region and I hope to change that! Even as large as this site will eventually be, there just isn't enough room or time in the day to fully describe this incredible country but I am going to try scraping away at the tip of the iceberg, so join me!

Follow the links, and see what the West Chilcotin is really like!
Lonesome Lake orange fire clouds.
Black trunks stand out against the snow.
Fire destroyed hill sides.
Little girl does acrobatic moves.
Dance finale for three little kids in purple costumes.
Four ballet dancers in blue.
Young male dancer lifts girl in the air.
Kids do a pyramid in the air.
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