GUNTER: Time to talk about the real causes of all these fires

On Sept. 4, a small forest fire was spotted near the base of Alberta’s Blackrock Mountain, not far from Devil’s Head peak, just north of the resort town of Canmore.

Initially, it burned only about 10 acres. Then the winds whipped up and by Sept. 7, the blaze had consumed about 1,600 acres. Flames were so intense the bottoms of clouds that hung just over the peak glowed red even in the middle of the afternoon.

“This fire is probably the same size of every other fire (in the province) combined for the entire year,” wildfire information officer Travis Fairweather told the CBC last week.

So what was the cause? Drought brought on by global warming caused by emissions from Alberta’s oil and gas industry? Climate change caused by all those pickups Albertans drive? (The province accounts for more than a quarter of all half-ton sales in the entire country.)

Nope. Backcountry hikers failed to extinguish their campfire which ignited the forest after they hiked away.

Devin Dreeshen, Alberta’s minister of agriculture and forestry, said over the weekend that “last year, 71% of wildfires were caused by humans and were entirely preventable.”

Not climate change. Humans.

As more and more of us take to the hills (and mountains, forests, streams and slopes) for recreation, we spark more fires.

Is it possible that increased dryness perhaps caused by global warming has made these new playgrounds quicker to combust? Perhaps.

But it has been kindling-dry in the woods in previous generations, too. The difference now is the number of us kitting up with all sorts of hiking and camping equipment and heading out to commune with nature – perhaps without a full understanding of how to behave responsibly in the great outdoors.

It’s the same in California and Oregon, two states that are currently suffering record or near-record fire seasons.

Those fires must be immense. I was in Vancouver over the weekend and never once saw the north shore mountains from my perch downtown.

On Sunday, the smoke (which is mostly coming from more than 800 km away) was so thick it was impossible to see down False Creek from the Cambie Bridge to the Granville Street Bridge less than a kilometre away.

Yet for all the global warming hand-wringing (California’s lefty Governor Gavin Newsom said, “We are  living in the middle of a climate crisis.”), many of the biggest, most destructive fires are human-caused (and I don’t mean man-made global warming).


Plus, the fact that one-quarter of Oregonians and perhaps 10% of Californians are under evacuation standby orders has as much to do with the rapid expansion of residential neighbourhoods into fire zones as it does with any potential climate crisis.

The El Dorado fire east of Los Angeles, for instance, was human-caused.

One of the largest wildfires in California, as of Tuesday the El Dorado had consumed nearly 20,000 acres, forced the evacuation of 3,500 homes and kept 1,300 firefighters occupied around the clock.

It was caused when some fireworks set off at a gender-reveal party in an L.A. suburb ignited a grassy slope that leads up to the San Bernardino National Forest.

Oregon’s huge Almeda fire was started by a man burning brush on his property (despite a fire ban) and setting off a wildfire that has killed four people, forced 80,000 from their homes and destroyed 5,700 acres.

Yes, some large fires this summer have been caused by dry lightning storms (all flash and no rain), but some have also been caused by sparks from uninsulated overhead wires.

Something to think about before jumping on the global-warming panic wagon.