In the wake of two of the worst wildfire seasons on record, the British Columbia government is stepping up with more fire prevention strategies, programs and funding to help keep British Columbians and their communities safe this summer.
As part of Budget 2019, wildfire management funding has increased by 58% 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.
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.
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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.
One of the key themes of the Abbott-Chapman report was the need to re-examine how the provincial government works with First Nations on wildfire issues.
- The BC Wildfire Service has partnered with the First Nations’ Emergency Services Society of B.C. and Indigenous Services Canada on a strategy to deliver training required for Type 3 and Type 2 firefighting crews. The First Nations’ Emergency Services Society of B.C. is leading this training this spring, supported by $150,000 from the BC Wildfire Service and $75,000 from Indigenous Services Canada.
- Significant progress has been made to keep First Nations informed on topics, such as:
- pre-season forecasts;
- fire season debriefings;
- the use of heavy equipment; and
- firefighting equipment caches in remote communities.
- Based on a pilot project in Alexis Creek this winter, the BC Wildfire Service is developing a First Nations firefighter recruitment strategy to implement throughout B.C.
- Guidance is being provided to interested Indigenous communities to respond to master standing offer requests to supply Type 3 firefighting crews. The BC Wildfire Service is also providing advice to Indigenous communities interested in upgrading their existing Type 3 crews to Type 2 crews.
- The BC Wildfire Service will continue to meet regularly with Indigenous communities to discuss communications, firefighter recruitment opportunities and contract opportunities.
- In partnership with the Fraser Basin Council, the BC Wildfire Service is holding community wildfire roundtables in communities facing a high wildfire risk. This $300,000 program will be delivered over the next two years.
- The BC Wildfire Service is providing $400,000 to the Association of B.C. Forest Professionals to develop fire-related professional development sessions, which will provide guidance on the use of fire and management of fire risk when planning forestry operations.
- In partnership with the Western Forestry Contractors’ Association, the BC Wildfire Service has formed a contract advisory committee to co-operatively develop procurement processes and allow it to work more effectively with the contracting community.
- Mitigating wildfire risk is a shared responsibility. British Columbians can play a crucial role in mitigating wildfire risks around their homes and properties by using FireSmart principles.
- FireSmart is the Canadian standard recognized by all provinces and territories. It is based on National Fire Protection Association standards that have evolved over the last 40 years.
- FireSmart is backed by a vast amount of field, laboratory and modelling research. Its methods have been demonstrated time and time again to reduce the risk of losses, under even the most extreme fire conditions.
- Given the effects of climate change and the increased number of homes being developed in forested areas, B.C. residents need to undertake FireSmart activities to help protect their homes and neighbourhoods from wildfires.
- Local governments also have a role to play in implementing FireSmart bylaws for municipal lands in wildland-urban interface areas.
- The FireSmart Homeowner’s Manual was developed to help people reduce the risk of personal property damage due to wildfires. The manual and more information about the FireSmart program are available online.