February 28, 2022 By Michael Potestio, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Kamloops This Week
Todd Stone likes the idea of a year-round BC Wildfire Service, but the BC Liberal Kamloops-South Thompson MLA will be watching for the devils in the detail as the NDP government rolls out that promise, which was presented this week in its 2022-2023 budget.
B.C. was razed by wildfires last summer, with Kamloops at the epicentre as the largest blazes erupted in rural areas near the city. The wildfire season followed particularly devastating fire seasons in 2017 and 2018, which led to provincial reports and promises of action.
On Feb. 22, Finance Minister Selina Robinson announced that the BC Wildfire Service which is headquartered at Kamloops Airport, would be converted into a year-round operation in a bid to be more proactive than reactive in wildfire response.
Part of the plan includes $98 million on wildfire prevention, including an expansion of its FireSmart program, and $145 million to hire more staff over the next three years.
“Wildfires, unfortunately, are becoming more prevalent and any focus on policy changes and additional resources that will enable us to better prepare to fight and come out of wildfire disasters supporting people and communities impacted is a good thing,” Stone said.
He said the budget, however, lacks specifics on what the year-round service will look like and whether the expansion will include building out white-collar management positions or enhancing ground resources to more quickly respond to fires.
“That is a budget item I’m going to be paying very close attention to, I’m going to be asking very specific questions about,” Stone said, adding he also wants to stress that it’s not enough to focus on the firefighting side of the emergencies.
“We’ve got to rethink and retool how we support communities and people who are impacted by wildfires,” Stone said, noting he has heard from some 32 families in the Monte Lake area, which saw numerous homes and other buildings destroyed by fire last summer, that have received little from government aside from some a few thousand dollars from the Red Cross.
Nearly 870,000 hectares of land was burned in B.C via 1,600 fires in 2021, making it the third-worst wildfire season on record. It followed two quieter years for wildfires: in 2020, when 670 wildfires burned 14,536 hectares, and in 2019, when 825 fires burned 21,138 hectares, according to provincial statistics.
The two years before 2019 were the worst fire seasons on record, with 2,117 fires burning 1,354,284 hectares of land in 2018 and 1,353 fires burning 1,216,053 hectares in 2017.
The province’s 10-year average for the 2010s was 1,352 fires and 348,917 hectares burned.
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