Critics say the province is spending huge amounts of taxpayers money fighting forest fires when it should be focusing its efforts on preventing them.

Climate models predict hot, dry summers will be the new normal in B.C., and forestry experts such as Lori Daniels say the province needs to be realistic.

The province allocated $63 million to fight wildfires and burned through that within weeks of the forest fire season taking off in May. As of today, the bill is $198 million — more than three times what was budgeted — and climbing.

The province has overspent its wildfire budget for nine out of the past 10 years. B.C’s Forests minister Steve Thomson says that’s because the province doesn’t want to tie up the funds.

‘What we don’t want to do is to tie up resources in a budget line that could be available for other purposes in the event that we don’t need them,” he said Friday.

But Daniels, the UBC Forestry expert says while BC has shelled out almost $200 million fighting wildfires this year, less than $1 million has been spent in southern B.C. to cut the risk of forest fires.

She says the province has to take more of a lead, especially with Environment Canada warning the warm El Nino current nicknamed “Godzilla El Nino” is continuing to build. That means there could be little snow again this winter and B.C. is in for a repeat of this year’s widespread drought conditions.

“This summer has been a real wake-up call for British Columbia,” she said. “We need to come up with some big picture changes to some of our forest management policies.”

Daniels says this can be done by starting programs to remove surface fuel hazards, such as debris, branches, leaves and establish a provincial strategy for fireproofing communities.