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How B.C. is mobilizing for ‘challenging’ wildfire season

Wildfire season is here. 

Dozens of fires have already sparked in British Columbia this season — and many more are expected to ignite as spring turns to summer, and drought conditions persist. 

The province says it’s been preparing for this summer for months, purchasing new firefighting equipment and recruiting firefighters in advance of what’s expected to be a “challenging” season. 

“We’re taking action earlier than ever,” provincial Minister of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness Bowinn Ma said in a news release.

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‘Persistent drought conditions’

B.C. is experiencing a record-low snowpack, and drought has plagued much of the province for months. 

“Current forecasts indicate that British Columbia may experience an active spring-wildfire season due to persistent drought conditions,” the province said in a news release.

“This activity is expected to increase if there continues to be limited precipitation over the next several weeks and months. Until significant and sustained rains occur, the risk of ignition will remain elevated.”

Data from the B.C. River Forecast Centre shows a long, dry fire season is coming, according to UBC forestry professor Lori Daniels. 

“Our forests are already dry and are going to be vulnerable to fire this summer,” Daniels said.

A large fire burns on a treed ridge.
The Burgess Creek wildfire burns on April 20, 2024 about 50 kilometres south of Quesnel, B.C. It was one of seven human-caused wildfires reported in the Cariboo region in a single afternoon, according to the B.C. Wildfire Service. (B.C. Wildfire Service)

More firefighters

The province says it’s “strengthened” the application process for wildland firefighters, which the B.C. Wildfire Service (BCWS) says has resulted in 2,000 applications. 

five firefighters
A crew assigned to the wildfire threatening Scotch Creek, B.C., in the summer of 2023. (© Jesse Winter)

The BCWS says there has been a 55 per cent increase in permanent staff since 2022 and it plans to continue expanding. 

Training bootcamps for new recruits began earlier this month, and will go into May. 

New equipment

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Forests said it has upgraded its fleet of planes and helicopters, using $56 million allocated in the 2024 budget. 

B.C. doesn’t own aircraft, but instead contracts them out. The ministry says it has access to 40 aircraft, including airtankers, skimmers and heavy lift helicopters, on an ongoing basis. When short-term contracts are utilized during periods of greater need, they can have access to up to 100 aircraft. 

They also have access to two jumpships for smokejumpers that are able to carry more equipment and cover more distance in a shorter time than helicopters. 

A helicopter sprays water on a patch of grass near a railway track.
A B.C. Wildfire Service helicopter at the scene of a grass fire in Kamloops, B.C., on April 20. (Ken Uzeloc/Twitter)

The province said it has also secured two mass water delivery systems, which supply more than 3,700 litres of water per minute when used for fire suppression, and more “structure protection units” — mobile trailers filled with equipment — to use in high-risk areas.  

The province also said it’s purchasing more pumps, fire-camp equipment, safety gear and medical and hygiene equipment ahead of the summer season.

Prevention

Fire officials are putting an emphasis on owners consulting the FireSmart program to protect their properties before and during the wildfire season. That includes moving flammable materials away from structures and trimming, hedges and grass. 

In an effort to prevent wildfires from starting and spreading, the province says 61 cultural and prescribed burns are planned for 2024, nearly triple the number last year. 

BCIT forest and natural areas instructor Justin Perry says prescribed burning is not the only way to manage forests, but it’s cost effective. However, he said, more people need to be trained to do it safely.

And even with all this preparation, Perry said it’s going to take decades of work for the province to be truly prepared for wildfire season. 

“When it comes to forest fires or wildland fires, there’s no silver bullet. We need a holistic approach to it and we need different layers of mitigation, prevention and response.”

This article is from from cbc.ca (CBC NEWS CANADA)

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