Don’t be surprised if you’re hearing more about how to deal with wildfire this season.
In the wake of two of the worst wildfire seasons on record, the provincial government is stepping up with more fire prevention strategies, programs and funding to help keep British Columbians and their communities safe this summer.
“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%, and we’re accelerating prevention and prevention awareness programs.”
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:
- A $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 government has also 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. It is in addition to the $235 million provided to the Forest Enhancement Society of B.C., of which nearly $180 million has been allocated.
Locally, the Town of Osoyoos recently received a $25,000 grant to help it explore safely evacuating the community in the event of wildfire or other catastrophic event.
Although the community last year was largely physically untouched by wildfire, out-of-control burns in surrounding areas blanketed the South Okanagan in heavy smoke for much of the summer.
In 2017 — the last year for which wildfire statistics are available — wildfire consumed more than 1.2 million hectares of provincial land, displacing about 65,000 residents and costing more than $568 million to fight.