It’s kind of a shock, after the last two fire seasons, to see someone driving down the road trailing a cigarette out the window, eventually flicking it away.
When it comes to wildfires, we’ve been lucky so far this year. July, around the world, was the hottest on record, but here in the Okanagan, it was kind of rainy. But the thermometer rising into the 90s (or the 30s if you are one of those young folk) and the number of significant fires is starting to grow.
Smoking is already a pretty anti-social habit—in recent years we’ve seen smokers moved out of offices and away from buildings—but being careless with cigarette butts goes beyond just being offensive to non-smokers all the way up to criminally stupid.
We can’t prevent fires caused by lightning strikes, but we can prevent human-caused fires, especially those started by carelessness.
Because the cost of a fire goes well beyond the immediate loss of forest and habitat. There is the immediate cost of extinguishing the fire, along with property loss and the risk to the people tasked with putting it out.
There is also the immediate and ongoing cost to the many tourism businesses that are a large part of the economy. Ongoing because tourism organizations are still dealing with the damage to our reputation as a tourism destination.
All that, just because some people are too lazy to stub out a cigarette in their car ashtray that they would have to clean later?
It’s not just smokers, of course. There are many ways of being careless: people who insist on building campfires, even though that activity is banned and the day is too hot to need one anyways; even people who purposefully try to start wildfires.
According to the BC Wildfire Service, there have been 611 fires so far this year. For about 21 per cent, the cause is unknown, and lightning caused almost 43 per cent. But humans caused 36.7 per cent, a bit more than a third.
It doesn’t say much for human’s vaunted position as the most intelligent animal on the planet, does it?
Smokey the Bear’s message all those years ago, ‘Only you can prevent forest fires,’ is as true today as it ever was. Too bad some people still don’t seem to have heard it.