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B.C. government gets ready for 2019 wildfire season

BC Wildfire Service photo
BC Wildfire Service photo

In the wake of two of the worst wildfire seasons on record, the British Columbia government has unveiled more fire prevention strategies, programs and funding aimed at dealing with the blazes.

“We’ve taken a hard look at additional steps we can take to not only prevent wildfires, but also enhance our response on the ground during wildfire season,” said Doug Donaldson, Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development. “Our base budget for wildfire spending has increased by 58 per cent, and we’re accelerating prevention and prevention awareness programs.”

The province has increased wildfire management funding 58 per cent to $101 million annually. The additional funding will help the BC Wildfire Service add to its fire response capabilities – adding more crews, enhancing aerial capacity and including innovative technology – and spending more on fire prevention activities, including a more comprehensive prescribed burning program backed by an initial $10 million, said Donaldson.

New technology, including night vision goggles to better aid in early detection and response, will also be piloted this summer.

Other important advances over the past year include building stronger working relationships with communities, First Nations, the forest industry and other stakeholders. The changes support the recommendations of the independent Abbott-Chapman report.

Wildfire prevention funding initiatives include the following:

  • The $50-million Community Resiliency Investment program was established in September 2018 to help local governments and First Nations lower wildfire risks around their communities. As part of Budget 2019, an additional $10 million has been added, for a total of $60 million. Results from the first application intake will be announced by the end of March 2019.
  • The B.C. government has increased funding under the Forest Carbon Initiative by $13 million over the next three years, allowing it to take advantage of matching funding from the federal government. This money is used for reforestation and restoration initiatives that not only capture carbon, but also reduce wildfire risks. This funding is in addition to the $235 million provided to the Forest Enhancement Society of B.C., of which nearly $180 million has been allocated.

More crews and equipment:

The BC Wildfire Service has been making changes to its operations to enhance its response capabilities.

  • More than 1,600 firefighters and support staff are available for the 2019 wildfire season. Both the Northwest Fire Centre and Prince George Fire Centre are adding additional initial attack crews in remote locations. Additional national and international resources are available as needed, through mutual aid agreements.
  • The BC Wildfire Service is seeking to add up to 80 additional Type 2 contract firefighters (for a total of up to 160), with the operating period for these resources increasing from 80 to 100 days. The request for proposals for additional crews closes on April 30, 2019.
  • The use of the industry equipment strike team model will be expanded throughout the province to support initial attack efforts. These strike teams are a combination of heavy equipment, operators and line locator personnel that can be quickly deployed in response situations.
  • The BC Wildfire Service is holding joint training workshops with forest industry crews to better assist in wildfire response throughout the province this spring.
  • The integration of helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft has been improved to maximize efficiency. Firefighting aircraft contracts will be longer in 2019. For example, the availability period for the “Fire Boss” skimmer aircraft group (consisting of four Air Tractor “Fire Boss” airtankers and one Cessna Grand Caravan bird dog) has been increased from 100 to 120 days.
  • Capable of working as a land-based aircraft or as a float plane, the Fire Boss can skim up to 3,025 litres of water from a nearby water source in under 15 seconds and be back on its way to a fire in less than 30 seconds. The aircraft can also drop fire retardant and foam to slow the spread of a wildfire.
  • At full operational readiness, the BC Wildfire Service has access to 32 fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters, about 80 ground-attack vehicles and additional short-term contractors.
  • The BC Wildfire Service and the Office of the Fire Commissioner are working on an expanded structure protection program, which will provide additional resources in rural and wildland-urban interface areas.
  • Staff will be given increased access to technology, including tablet computers/iPads in the field and unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) to assist with fire mapping and infrared scanning.
  • Type 1 firefighting crews are the BC Wildfire Service’s most highly trained frontline firefighters and have experience using a variety of firefighting equipment.
  • The BC Wildfire Service also regularly calls on the services of contract crews to support wildfire management in British Columbia. Type 2 contract crews are used to supplement BC Wildfire Service firefighters and for sustained action support. Type 2 crews carry out expanded attack operations, including hand-guard construction, mop-up, and patrol duties.
  • Once part or all of a fire is considered to be under control, Type 3 contract crews may be used to mop up a fire using pumps and hoses, patrol burned areas using hand tools to extinguish any remaining hotspots or complete the removal of equipment once fires are fully extinguished.