Fire Fighting in Canada

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Comment: September 2009

British Columbia is burning. The count, as I write this on Aug. 7, is 2,336 separate fires across the province having consumed 87,000 hectares. That’s 800 more fires than in 2003, the worst wildfire season on record in B.C. The province has spent $138.6 million so far this season fighting wildfires, more than double the budget of $62 million.

September 14, 2009
By Laura King


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British Columbia is burning. The count, as I write this on Aug. 7, is 2,336 separate fires across the province having consumed 87,000 hectares. That’s 800 more fires than in 2003, the worst wildfire season on record in B.C. The province has spent $138.6 million so far this season fighting wildfires, more than double the budget of $62 million.

One of the first wildland fires of the season, near Lillooet, started in early June, during the Fire Chiefs Association of B.C. annual conference in Nanaimo, and it’s been relentless ever since. Shortly thereafter, fires started in Kelowna, where scars from the 2003 blazes are still fresh. In 2003, 329 structures were lost in the Kelowna and MacLure fires. This year, just three homes have been destroyed in the myriad blazes in B.C.

We focused on wildland interface fires in the July issue of Fire Fighting in Canada, following a blaze in Nova Scotia in which homes were lost and thousands evacuated. That was a year after a bigger wildland interface fire in Nova Scotia during which 30,000 people were forced out of their homes.

Thankfully there have been no serious injuries in any of the wildland fires across Canada this summer and that’s a testament to the emergency management structures and to the training of wildland firefighters. The challenge, however, is education. Many of the B.C. fires were started by lightning but some were the result of campers and other careless residents.

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Norm Macdonald, the NDP’s forestry critic in B.C., said in August that the Liberal government of Gordon Campbell failed to do enough in advance of the fire season to reduce the potential for wildland interface fires.

A report by former Manitoba premier Gary Filmon after the 2003 fires said that, among other things, the province had to reduce the amount of fuel on the ground in the interface areas between communities and forests.

As Vancouver writer Paul Dixon reported in our July issue, Filmon’s mandate was to review the issues relevant to prevention, planning and response to wildfires. Filmon made recommendations on mitigation, response and recovery, forest management practices, emergency management planning and implementation, command and control issues, communications issues and resources.

According to the NDP, the governing Liberals have downloaded those costs to municipalities, and as a result, just two to five per cent of the necessary work has been done.

Macdonald said much of the cost and the efforts of firefighters and emergency personnel could have been avoided if the government had taken responsibility for fuel reduction.

Maybe this time the government will take notice.

On another note, FFIC columnist Ed Brouwer, who wrote in June about wildland fire preparedness, is fighting forest fires of his own in Alberta along with his colleagues at Canwest Fire Service and was therefore unavailable to write his September Trainer’s Corner column. He’ll be back in November. Stay safe, Ed!


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