A cooler, damper spring has alleviated early wildfire worries in the province, but officials are monitoring several drier regions closely.
The BC Wildfire Service released its seasonal outlook last month, predicting that wildfire hazard will remain low throughout early summer but may shift to above-average seasonal temperatures for late July and August.
After the extreme 2021 wildfire season, BC residents are familiar with the risks of wildfires that can devastate our communities and burn at an intensity detrimental to our forests and ecosystems.
On average, there are more than 1,600 wildfires in British Columbia annually. While each year is different, decades of fire suppression and the effects of climate change are contributing to more frequent, larger, and more severe wildfires – this trend is expected to continue, making it imperative for all of us to do our part.
The BC Wildfire Service is an international leader in wildfire management. However, they are not the only land manager responsible for protecting our province. Other government agencies, Indigenous ecological knowledge experts, conservation groups, local municipalities, land owners and other experts help manage and protect our land, to keep our forests healthy and resilient.
These partners and all British Columbians share the responsibility of wildfire prevention and preparedness in our province, each playing a role in mitigating the impacts of wildfire on our forests and communities.
Many of these groups are already preparing to mitigate the possible impacts of wildfire this coming spring and summer through fuel-management techniques, such as prescribed fire. Here is an overview of how various partners and BC residents are getting ready for potential wildfire risk:
In recent years, the Provincial government has invested heavily in wildfire prevention and preparedness to help keep British Columbians safe and protect the province’s natural resources and infrastructure.
To support wildfire prevention, preparedness and resiliency, Budget 2022 provided $359 million in new funding to protect British Columbians from wildfires.
This includes $145 million over three years to be used in part to move the BC Wildfire Service from a reactive to a proactive model, moving to a year-round workforce that will deliver all four pillars of emergency management: prevention and mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery.
Another $98 million over three years will help fund wildfire prevention work and maintain forest service roads to help the service respond to future forest fires. This will mean many seasonal staff will move to permanent employees working for the service.
Additionally, $90 million is being injected into the FireSmart program aimed at improving community and ecological resiliency.
The government is also increasing its annual firefighting budget from $136 million to $199 million.
These significant increases will allow for increased wildfire response capacity, community engagement and communication resources to help communities be better prepared for wildfires.
The FireSmart BC program is directed by the BC FireSmart Committee (BCFSC), a group of government agencies that collaboratively maintain and improve the delivery of the FireSmart BC program to better support wildfire preparedness, prevention and mitigation in BC.
BCFSC does this by ensuring alignment with the seven FireSmart disciplines. In meeting their purpose, they commit to aligning with FireSmart Canada, developing an annual work plan and budget and providing stakeholders and interested parties with one governing organization for FireSmart in BC.
FireSmart BC puts the power of prevention into the hands of property owners through its many resources found at FireSmartBC.ca – the go-to source for the best information, resources, and certified local experts who can help individuals identify the risks around their house and neighbourhood. But most importantly, these essential tools provide tangible solutions that people can use to create more peace of mind with wildfire mitigation.
To prepare for the potential of wildfire this year, the FireSmart team is busy working behind the scenes to ensure that British Columbians are informed on how to protect their home and community from wildfire by undertaking firesmart measures. Here are just a few ways in which they are doing this:
- Updating online resources for homeowners and individuals
- Providing local Local FireSmart Representatives (LFRs) with the tools and resources they need to conduct neighbourhood/ homeowner assessments
- Executing a Spring media campaign to bring greater awareness about wildfire preparedness to British Columbians
- Introducing the FireSmart BC Landscaping Hub, which includes a list of fire-resistant plants, tips on how to create a FireSmart landscape, and information on the FireSmart BC Plant Program.
- Introducing the FireSmart BC Library Program – the first children’s literacy program dedicated to wildfire resiliency. This was designed to help children understand what it means to live with wildfires and the role they can play in mitigating the impacts of wildfires on their homes and community.
British Columbia Residents
Wildfire is a risk that all British Columbians need to be prepared for. We all need to do our part to help reduce the risk to our homes and neighbourhoods. While that may seem like a big task, there are several tried and tested practices that are proven to save homes and are often very simple to implement.
As we approach summer, many individuals will be taking it upon themselves to review the FireSmart tips and resources to make their homes and communities safer. From cleaning your roof and gutters to planting fire-resilient plants in your garden, there are several surprisingly easy steps all British Columbians can take to FireSmart your home and community.
Here are five ways BC residents can help prepare for potential wildfire this summer:
- Always obey campfire bans. And when campfires are allowed, never leave a campfire unattended
- Never discard cigarettes or matches into vegetation (including bark mulch)
- Be aware of fire activity in your area and observe all activity restrictions and campfire bans
- Create fuel-free or low-combustible zones around your house (for example, never store wood piles beside a building)
- Report wildfires to the BC Wildfire Service or your local fire department (911)
There are proactive measures that municipalities can take at a local level to protect themselves from wildfire.
As an example, the City of Nelson partnered with The Regional District of Central Kootenay (RDCK) and BC Parks to treat high-risk areas of wildfire near the city with the Nelson & Area Wildfire Risk Reduction Partnership.
Together, they have treated several high-risk areas within Nelson and the surrounding area through wildfire prevention projects through tactics such as prescribed fire, hand treatment, and mechanical treatment.
Additionally, the Nelson & Area Wildfire Risk Reduction Partnership shares information and resources with the community, encouraging citizens to consider wildfire risks of their homes through the FireSmart BC program and empowering them with the tools and information to reduce risk.
“We hope that working together on wildfire mitigation will help protect our communities”, said Amanda Weber-Roy, Conservation Specialist at BC Parks. “We also hope to inspire others to come together in their municipalities and adopt similar community-level strategies.”
To read more about this partnership and get ideas on how your municipality can come together and take action, click here
First Nations’ Emergency Services Society of British Columbia (FNESS)
The First Nations’ Emergency Services Society of BC (FNESS) is a non-profit registered charity, dedicated to assisting First Nations in developing and sustaining safer and healthier communities through:
- emergency preparedness, education and response;
- fire training, education and prevention; and
- forest fuel and wildfire management.
The Mitigation Department (formerly Forest Fuel Management) works with BC First Nation communities, provincial and federal governments, and agencies, to assist with wildfire prevention activities. Many BC First Nations are impacted by the threat and risk of loss to community structures and assets because of wildfires. The Mitigation Department supports access to funding to communities through planning, education and implementation of wildfire threat reduction activities.
“First Nations’ Emergency Services Society of B.C. is looking forward to the opportunity to continue serving First Nation communities in B.C., working with our program partners to deliver FireSmart community funding and supports,” said Quentin Nelson, mitigation manager, First Nations’ Emergency Services Society. “These programs increase community resiliency, reduce risk from wildfire, and build capacity to support these initiatives.”
BC Wildfire Service
The BC Wildfire Service (BCWS) is internationally recognized as a leader in wildfire management with skilled personnel, innovative use of technology and a commitment to uncompromising safety.
BCWS works closely with a variety of other land managers to undertake a variety of fuel management activities to reduce wildfire risks, such as prescribed fire.
This scientifically proven fuel management technique refers to the planned and controlled application of fire to a specific land area used as a tool for achieving a variety of land management objectives.
To help prepare for potential wildfire this summer, BCWS has already begun executing several prescribed fires over the spring in high-risk areas of the province in collaboration with various partner groups.
Here are a few other ways BCWS is getting prepared for the potential of wildfire this summer:
More than 1,700 BCWS firefighters and support staff are in place for the 2022 fire season.
BCWS procured 18 contracts for eight-person, Type 2 firefighting crews (providing 150 qualified people) that meet Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre standards. These contractors are used to supplement BCWS firefighters for sustained action support.
The Province’s long-term contracted fleet for the 2022 fire season consists of 39 fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft:
- one Type 4 light-lift helicopter
- five Type 2 medium-lift helicopters
- three Type 2 medium-lift rappel and hoist-equipped aircraft
- eight bird dog aircraft (used for coordinating aerial wildfire response)
- 20 airtankers (including one Q400 AT Airtanker, 10 AT-802F Fire Boss amphibious airtankers, four Electra L-188 “heavy” airtankers, three Convair CV-580 “intermediate” airtankers and two RJ-85 580 “heavy” airtankers)
- two parattack smoke-jumping aircraft (DC-3T and Twin Otter)
BCWS is also working with many land managers and partner groups to plan and execute several prescribed burns over the spring in high-risk areas of the province. Prescribed burning is used to remove hazardous fuels from our landscapes and creates fuel breaks that mitigate the impacts of wildfires, and make our forests healthier and more resilient.
The Community Resiliency Investment (CRI) Program
The Community Resiliency Investment (CRI) program aims to reduce the risk and impact of wildfire on communities in BC through community funding, support and priority fuel management activities on provincial Crown land. Since the program launched in 2018, more than 173 First Nations and local governments have received funding.
CRI includes three streams:
- FireSmart Community Funding and Supports (FCFS)
- Crown Land Wildfire Risk Reduction (WRR)
- FireSmart Economic Recovery Fund
Since the Community Resiliency Investment program was established, 488 grants to local governments and First Nations have been approved totalling more than $50 million.
As much as $90 million in new Community Resiliency Investment program funding will be provided to local governments and First Nations to increase wildfire protection by undertaking community-based FireSmart activities over the next three years.
Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM)
The Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) administers the FireSmart Community Funding and Supports program. It processes grant applications in partnership with the Ministry of Forests and the First Nations’ Emergency Services Society of B.C. Eligible applicants facing a lower wildfire risk can apply for as much as $50,000, while applicants facing a demonstrated higher wildfire risk can apply for up to $150,000. Communities can apply for funding to cover up to 100% of the cost of their wildfire risk reduction projects.
“UBCM members have called on the Provincial government for many years to support wildfire risk reduction activities in and around their communities,” said Laurey-Anne Roodenburg, president, UBCM. “The additional $90 million will allow communities to continue their efforts to reduce wildfire risk and increase local resiliency, and we are very happy to see the Province further its commitment to supporting local and Indigenous governments.”
Everyone needs to do their part
Wildfire preparedness and prevention is a collective responsibility that we all share, and everyone needs to do what they can to protect and maintain the health and safety of our forests, communities, homes and wildlife. There are many resources and tools available to assist and guide you every step of the way. So, ask yourself, what are you doing to prepare for when wildfire strikes?
To view the 2022 BC Wildfire Service Seasonal Outlook, click here
To learn more about how you can FireSmart your home and community, click here
To learn more about Cultural Burning & Prescribed Fire, click here