OUR VIEW: Stopping idiocy is just the first step

As wildfires continue to rage around the province, Premier Christy Clark is making headlines for saying she wants to see harsher penalties for people who start forest fires.

This statement, perhaps not surprisingly, came after officials said the devastating fire still burning outside of Rock Creek is believed to be human caused.

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The fire, which was discovered Aug. 13, was burning over some 3,750 hectares as of press time. And, with a warm, drying trend predicted for the coming few days, fire crews weren’t expecting to get any help from Mother Nature.

Clark isn’t wrong.

People who start forest fires should indeed be penalized heavily.

In fact, it was a full month ago that Forests Minister Steve Thomson announced a review of existing punishments – tapping Prince George-Mackenzie MLA Mike Morris (a former RCMP superintendent) to head the review.

Morris said he would look at a number of possible fixes, including higher fines, banning people from provincial parks and campsites for repeatedly violating fire prohibitions, and impounding the cars of those caught flicking cigarette butts out their windows.

We can back all those plans. Frankly, anyone stupid enough to do something to endanger the safety of our forests – especially in a hot, dry year like this one – deserves a harsh punishment.

Unfortunately, however, focusing on punishments for human-caused fires is a mere drop in the bucket when it comes to addressing the real issues at play.

The fact of the matter is, wildfires will continue to burn every year, regardless of how careful each and every citizen is. The B.C. government’s own statistics show that, over the decade from 2004 to 2013, 38.5 per cent of wildfires were caused by people and another 61.5 per cent by lightning.

If even half of the province’s fires were preventable, we’d still be facing the possibility of raging infernos.

And, as scientists suggest that this year’s exceptionally hot, dry weather is but a sign of things to come, we have to get serious about this problem.

The B.C. government has to set realistic budgets for firefighting.

And, even more to the point, it has to take the bull by the horns and finally start taking real action to address climate change.

Stopping an idiot from tossing a cigarette butt into a forest is a good thing.

But stopping the human race from destroying the planet is a much more urgent obligation.

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