The North getting its share of firefighting resources: Minister

Forest Minister Doug Donaldson
Forest Minister Doug Donaldson

BY BILL PHILLIPS

bill@pgdailynews.ca

Forest Minister Doug Donaldson says he relies on ministry staff to determine if resources enough resources are in the right places to fight the more than 500 wildfires in the province.

“I speak on a daily basis with the operations staff fighting those fires and those responsible for the fire centres on a regional and provincial level,” Donaldson said Wednesday. “I ask them the question every day ‘do you have the supports you need,’ and the response from the operational experts is ‘yes.’”

Bulkley-Valley Regional District chair Bill Miller and Nechako Lake MLA John Rustad have both publically questioned the allocation of firefighting resources. They are concerned that more resources are being used on smaller fires in the southern half of the province while some of the biggest fires are in the North.

“He’s advocating for his communities, that’s what he should be doing,” Donaldson said of Miller. “… As politicians, we don’t fight the fires. The operational experts and ministry staff we have on the ground fight the fires. My job is to make sure they have the supports necessary. I’m letting them make the operational calls.”

For example, in northern B.C., the Shovel Lake fire, at 50,000 hectares, has 113 firefighters and 52 pieces of heavy equipment. In addition, 37 support personnel, 16 helicopters and 17 structural protection staff are shared with other fires in the area. The Island Lake fire, at 13,000 hectares, has fire firefighters and 15 pieces of heavy equipment, plus the shared staff. The Alkali Lake fire, at 36,000 hectares has 122 firefighters on scene, 11 helicopters, 21 pieces of heavy equipment. A total of 171 personnel including a night shift are working on and in support of this fire. The Verdun Mountain fire, at 5,370 hectares has 19 firefighters and 13 pieces of heavy equipment, plus the shared support staff.

In southern B.C., the Snowy Mountain fire, at 13,359 hectares, has 26 firefighters and two helicopters fighting the fire. There are 9 helicopters assigned to the entire complex that are being interchanged amongst the two wildfires (the other fires being Placer Mountain, Mt. Gottfriedsen and Juliet Creek). The Nanaimo Lakes fire at 182 hectares had 34 firefighters, two helicopters, and six pieces of heavy equipment. The Gottfriedsen Mountain fire at 733 hectares has 69 firefighters, and five pieces of heavy equipment. The Lost Dog complex of fires, at 452 hectares, has 54 firefighters, two helicopters, and six pieces of heavy equipment.

The province has declared a provincial state of emergency and has requested, and received, federal help to fight the fires.

Chief Fire Information Officer Kevin Skrepnek said there are currently 3,400 personnel fighting fires in B.C., 400 of those are from out of province and 1,400 are private contractors. There are 559 active fires, 31 new fires yesterday. Since April 1, there have been 1,821 fires that have burned over 381,000 hectares of forest.

“Our firefighting efforts right now are focused on public safety, protection of property and infrastructure as well,” said Skrepnek.

There have been 217 aircraft being used and there are 48 fires of note, which are fires potentially threatening or threatening communities or highly visible.

“A high number by any stretch of the imagination and spread across all six regions of the province,” said Skrepnek.