By Laura Keil

How do Robson Valley residents perceive the threat of wildfire and what are they doing about it?

Two researchers are examining these questions as part of their graduate studies at UNBC and the University of Leeds, in the UK.

James Whitehead, a Masters student at UNBC, says they chose this area partly because it hasn’t had any terrible wildfires that have damaged private property in recent years, and also because this area could become more prone to wildfires in the future.

Whitehead paired up with University of Leeds PhD candidate Ivan Villaverde Canosa, to look at attitudes across the valley towards wildfire risk.

“I’m more interested in how climate change is going to evolve in the future, and how that’s going to increase the risk of wildfire in the area,” Canosa said. “So not having a perception of that risk makes you quite at risk in future.”

Whitehead has worked as a provincial wildfire firefighter for the past seven years. His research question sprung from his experience seeing how different people and communities responded to wildfires and he wondered what kind of things affected their attitudes – everything from how concerned they were to how much preparation they did, to whether or not they would evacuate if ordered to.

Whitehead says his initial hypothesis is that people tend to either vastly overestimate or vastly underestimate the risk of wildfire affecting their property.

He says their initial findings are that Robson Valley residents have more awareness of wildfire danger and preparation than average.

“The other part of that hypothesis is that people in such a rural and self-sufficient area, especially out of town, would really value the agency or the ability to manage wildfires on their own.”

Canosa, who hails from Spain, says his home country also suffers from wildfires but not on the same scale as British Columbia.

“I wanted to get the perspective on how wildfires in Canada affect people because it’s a different setting. It actually causes a lot of troubles at the global level with climate change and all the wildfires; you’ve got burning trees and a lot of CO2 into the atmosphere.”

The pair have held several community meetings and conducted dozens of interviews with locals. Anyone wanting to take part can contact James at [email protected].

They hope to return to the valley in the spring to share their findings with residents.