The BC government is speeding up its planning for wildfire season now that dozens of fires are already burning across the province. Almost 50 fires were started province-wide yesterday alone.
Thirty-seven of the new fires started in the Prince George Fire Centre. Evacuation orders or alerts have been issued for several communities.
Forests Minister Steve Thomson says warmer than usual weather and high winds are to blame. “Whenever the season starts like this and with the significant amount of activity we’ve had, particularly last night as the information started to come in, to me it does give you that little turn in your stomach I guess in terms of ‘here it comes’ and we’re getting started. But again, it’s important to point out this is not necessarily indicative of the total season.”
Thomson says there is new money for things like controlled burning and brush removal. “We put additional funding into the strategic wildfire interface program working with communities and First Nation communities in interface protection. We’ve had an active program of prescribed burning and mitigation. An ongoing activity. We also know that this year, we’ve added $85-million into the forest enhancement program to do additional wildfire mitigation with a focus on wildfire mitigation work across the province on a broader scale.”
The hope is that when fires do start, they won’t burn as easily in populated areas. He adds they have 1,400 staff members ready and have the option of calling private contractors and personnel from other provinces for help.
UBC’s Dean of Forestry says the BC government is in a tight spot. John Innes says we don’t have the resources needed to do all the fire mitigation work the province needs. “We should be fire-proofing large areas of forests in the vicinities of communities that are likely to experience fire in the near future. However, there are so many of those that it would be impossible to do it all at once. The government is moving as fast as it can together with those communities. To actually cover it all would mean shutting down pretty well every other government service, which would be unacceptable to most people.
Innes says in the meantime, the BC government should consider having crews at the ready earlier in the year so communities can be sure someone will be there right away to help if a fire starts to encroach on populated areas. He says longer wildfires seasons will become normal as climate change continues.