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B.C. residents asked to prepare for a “challenging” wildfire season

Emergency Minister Bowinn Ma issued the warning Monday afternoon during an update
Emergency Minister Bowinn Ma warns of “tough” wildfire season ahead during an update on seasonal preparedness in Vancouver. Forests Minister Bruce Ralston and Water Minister Nathan Cullen are currently updating the public on the upcoming wildfire season. (Screencap)

British Columbians are asked to prepare for an early start of the 2024 wildfire season, with new fires joining some 90 hold-over fires — also known as Zombie fires — from last year.

B.C. Emergency Management Minister Bowinn Ma said she is not trying to scare British Columbians, but encourage them to prepare.

“The climate crisis is here and we are feeling the impacts of climate change,” Ma said. “It’s no secret that we did not accumulate the snowpack that we were hoping for in many parts of the province and while we all hope to get more rain in the months ahead, we are taking action now to prepare for what could be a very challenging season. In fact, we are taking action earlier than ever and preparations for this year’s wildfire and drought are already well underway.”

Ma made these comments in Vancouver, where Forests Minister Bruce Ralston and Water Minister Nathan Cullen joined her in giving an update on seasonal preparedness. Staff from the River Forecast Centre, BC Wildfire Service and Environment and Climate Change Canada joined the trio of ministers in offering various technical details.

They show that B.C. has already met two conditions for a prolonged fire season: drought conditions that have lingered from 2023 into 2024 for much of B.C.’s interior; and a “well-below” normal snowpack level of 66 per cent as of March 1, the second-lowest figure for that date in half a century.

Conditions could improve if B.C’s interior receives “semi-continuous, wide-spread rains” in June, but experts are “doubtful” B.C. will receive sufficient rain in June to “completely alleviate the deep and persistent drought conditions.”

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All three ministers urged British Columbians to prepare, while highlighting measures include coordination with other governments, transformation of the BC Wildfire Service into a year-round-service, and the addition of new crews and equipment.

2023 made provincial history as B.C.’s worst year for wildfires, with 2.84 million hectares affected. Wildfires also destroyed or partially damaged 600 residences. Almost 49,000 British Columbians received evacuation orders and 137,000 received evacuation alerts.

Available figures peg the direct costs of fighting last year’s fires at $1 billion, Ralston said, adding that insurance losses have so far added up to an estimated $700 million.

These figures include neither indirect costs through the loss of business, nor less measurable costs such as the stress caused by being in emergency, he added.

Both Ma and Ralston stressed that B.C. will spend “whatever it takes” to fight wildfires regardless of location and length of the wildfire season.

Crews have already responded to seven fires since January 2024 and continue to monitor some 90 holdovers from 2023, mostly in northern B.C.

Monday’s update also previewed possible restrictions, including water restrictions.

“Targeted, temporary water restriction may be needed again, but they are a last resort if voluntary efforts aren’t enough to restore water flows and protect vulnerable fish and habitat from long-lasting harm that can take generations to recover,” Cullen said.

“We are doing everything we can to avoid these restrictions, or at least delay the need from them, as long as possible.”

Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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