This week saw even more fires reported in the Cariboo after lightning strikes across the region.
On occasion, reports of fires turn out to be a smoke chase. A smoke chase is a response to a report of smoke or fire where the search fails to locate any evidence of fire.
It’s a tough call to say at what point in the process the BC Wildfire Service and, by extension, media organizations should report on an incident.
The way the BC Wildfire Service operates is that an incident gets listed when they’re sending out a crew to go check on it.
Creating a listing when a crew is sent out, rather than when a fire is confirmed, has the potential to create a bit of a panic and uneasiness.
From this perspective, it’s a poor policy and in poor taste for the media to report on. However, the available alternative isn’t necessarily better.
They could wait until they’ve confirmed there is a fire, whether that’s through the crew they sent out, aerial or other means.
But waiting to report until they’ve confirmed there is fire has some serious downsides.
First, confirmation could take a long time. Especially if an area is difficult to access, something that’s not uncommon in our region.
Second, even if crews have confirmation of a fire, they may not be able to relay that information back easily. A prime example is last year’s fires in the Canim Lake area. Without cell phone service available it was much more difficult for the fire information officers to get accurate and timely updates.
Consequently, it’s possible that, between access and communications limitations, by waiting to report until there’s confirmation, that the incident wouldn’t get listed for hours.
In the event that it was a fire and substantial enough to cause evacuations, this would be valuable time lost for residents to prepare.
This could lead to a scenario where an evacuation order could come completely out of the blue, whereas in the current situation, residents might at least have a heads up (think especially of residents who may have a long drive to work).
Furthermore, much like the first situation, it could also lead to a panic. If smoke or fire is clearly visible to residents but the BC Wildfire Service doesn’t have anything listed, it could panic residents, because from their perspective it would look like the BC Wildfire Service isn’t aware of it, even though they may already have crews on-site.
Regardless of when they choose to inform the public or update the map, it seems like they’re liable to tick someone off.