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Canada Day kicks off summer, and high risk for B.C. wildfire season

Pent-up demand for recreational travel meets hot weather
B.C. Wildfire Service firefighter works on perimeter of a fire, July 2019. (B.C. government)

Bracing for another hot summer of wildfires, the B.C. government has added $20 million more to its community resiliency fund to prepare for forest fires that can’t be prevented.

The program has assisted 116 B.C. communities with wildfire risk reduction work since 2018, when it was set up in response to back-to-back record wildfire years in B.C. Risk increases with the arrival of Canada Day, hot weather and a long-awaited return to recreational travel as the COVID-19 pandemic subsides. Most of the small wildfires in the early weeks of the season have been human-caused.

Since the mass evacuations of 2017 and 2018, the focus has been on protecting structures and communities rather than attempting to douse wildfires. The forests ministry is now moving back to Indigenous practices of prescribed burning, and allowing natural extent of fires that used to regularly clear out woody debris until fire suppression disrupted that cycle in the late 1940s.

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The province has also provided a $5 million endowment for a fire science research chair at Thompson Rivers University. Mike Flannigan, an expert in wildfire behaviour and landscape fire modelling, starts work in July.

“This is an exciting opportunity to collaborate with the B.C. Wildfire Service, emergency management agencies and academic institutions,” Flannigan said. “The wildfire landscape is becoming more challenging and demanding due to climate change, so I’m excited to help shape the future of wildfire prediction and analysis as part of a collective research effort.”

The Union of B.C. Municipalities administers the community grant fund, along with the First Nations’ Emergency Services Society of B.C. The next application intake begins June 30, for projects including residential fuel reduction, critical infrastructure protection, FireSmart training, emergency management, community planning and inter-agency cooperation.

Communities that demonstrate high wildfire risk can apply for up to $150,000 to cover up to 100 per cent of project costs, while lower-risk communities can apply for up to $50,000.


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