B.C. Wildfire Service firefighter works on perimeter of a fire, July 2019. (B.C. government)

Prescribed burns on hold as B.C. prepares for COVID-19 wildfire season

More air tankers, smaller camps as season off to slow start

The B.C. Wildfire Service is gearing up for the summer season with COVID-19 restrictions, including smaller wildfire camps and single-occupancy tents for firefighters in the field.

B.C.’s 2020 wildfire season is off to a slower than average start, with 132 fires identified as of May 21, five currently burning and all under control. The 10-year average for this time of year is 172 fires.

B.C. is proceeding with its fire prevention and fuel management program, but prescribed burns are not being done due to air quality restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic. Most open burning has been prohibited since April 16 as part of COVID-19 public health restrictions, except for campfires that are less than half a metre in width and height.

“Some of the interface work doesn’t require burning, and that’s proceeding,” Forests Minister Doug Donaldson said. “I visited one of those interface sites just outside Kelowna’s boundaries, where the number of stems per hectare has been reduced significantly. There are all sorts of side benefits to wildlife, to recreation to making some of the logs available to local mills.”

RELATED: Scientists predict high fire risk for Western Canada

RELATED: 2017 Elephant Hill fire likely caused by smoking

As with industrial camps and activities, B.C. Wildfire Service is subject to restrictions imposed by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. Those include restrictions on vehicle and aircraft occupancy, and the burning restrictions.

“Some of our prescribed burning program, which is a very robust three-year, $30 million program that we’re just starting into, may be adapted because of the provincial health officer guidelines around high-risk areas for smoke,” Donaldson said. “That impacts people who already have respiratory illnesses and are susceptible to the symptoms of COVID-19 as well as general population at higher risk.”

Jody Lucius, superintendent for communications with the B.C. Wildfire Service, said wildfire camps will restrict their interaction with local communities when they are set up to fight fires. Smaller, five-person camps will also be used to reduce the size and crowding of traditional fire camps.

“We’ve also moved away from the use of multi-person tents,” Lucius said. “We’re going to single tents only. We did introduce some crew camp kits that will allow some crews to work and live on their own outside of a fire camp, and that will help support smaller fire camps.”

B.C. has increased its air capacity for wildfire fighting this year, with 15 per cent more capacity for dropping fire retardant and 150 per cent more water skimmer capacity, Donaldson said. That includes 20 Fire Boss skimmer aircraft and 20 spotter aircraft, as well as a pair of four-engine Avro RJ85 jets with capacity for 11,000 litres.


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

BC legislaturebc wildfiresCoronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Three years for serial bank robber who hit Sidney branch

Lucas Bradwell was wanted for robberies in Sidney, Abbotsford and Vancouver

Cook Street Village grocery icon closing, new owners plan major renovation

Louie family has operated Oxford Foods and predecessor for five decades at Cook and Oxford streets

PHOTOS: Gallery explores ‘broken promises’ during Japanese Canadian internment in 1940s

‘Broken Promises’ to acknowledge the thousands of Japanese Canadians who faced dispossession

WorkSafeBC investigating death at Victoria Customs House construction site

Prevention officer will ensure all safety issues addressed before work starts again

POLL: Do you agree with the decision to call a provincial election for Oct. 24?

British Columbians will put their social distancing skills to the test when… Continue reading

Rare fish washes onto Whiffin Spit in Sooke

Deep water fish identified as ‘King-of-the-salmon’

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

BC Liberal Leader talks drug addiction in the Lower Mainland

Drug addiction and public safety a top priority says Andrew Wilkinson

Island Corridor Foundation launches survey on importance of Vancouver Island rail

“ICF remains 100 per cent committed to the restoration of full rail service on Vancouver Island”

Island RCMP remind drivers not to text after 19 tickets handed out in 90 minutes

The $368 fines were handed out Tuesday on Norwell Drive and Old Island Highway in Nanaimo

Vanderhoof’s Brian Frenkel takes on top job in tough times

We can get through this, new local government leader says

Local councils important, Horgan says as municipal conference ends

B.C. NDP leader says ‘speed dating’ vital, online or in person

Most Read