A desktop that shows the progress of B.C. wildfires

The Outdoor Recreation Council of British Columbia uses real-time data to bring the destructive potential of a fire closer to home.

ORCresized

Despite the fact that they have ravaged Canada in recent years, wildfires can still seem very distant, as something that happens in forests far away from home. The Outdoor Recreation Council of British Columbia (ORC) is looking to remind people about the risk these fires pose by sending a reminder right to their desk.

The ORC is an organization that works to preserve and improve outdoor spaces. Its 50 member organizations include provincial and regional clubs for activities such as hiking, fishing, biking and golf, as well as groups like tourism organizations and regional councils.

In July, ORC shared a link on social media to download a free desktop background showing British Columbia’s parks, ostensibly as a way to “stay connected with nature, even at your desk.” However, the background was linked to real-time data from the BC Wildfire Database, using images from last year’s wildfire season to simulate how a fire can progress as the summer goes on.

Morgan Tierney, creative director at Rethink, says wildfires “can feel a world away sometimes,” and the effort is a relatively simple way to use technology to bring the reality of wildfires closer to B.C. residents in a place where they can’t be ignored. Last year, Rethink and ORC highlighted wildfire risks to people actually in the forests, hanging giant price tags on trees to show them the fines they could be charged for starting a fire.

While the province is currently close to what is considered a “normal” level of wildfire activity for 2019, British Columbia had its worst wildfire season on record last year, with over 13,000 sq km of forests burned, breaking the previous record from 2017. While some fires start naturally, in a given year, the percentage of fires started by humans can range between 30% to 60%.

Louise Pedersen, executive director of ORC, said in a release that while many people understand the wildfire risk of things like cigarettes and campfires, another goal of the campaign is to reach people who feel like they are already responsible and take note of how things like off-road vehicles, power tools and discarded glass could contribute to a fire being started.

Last fall, the Government of British Columbia launched its own PSA effort in response to the record-setting wildfire season with a campaign showing how memories – not just plant and wildlife – can be destroyed by a fire.