Firefighter lights a back-burn to interrupt the spread of a B.C. forest fire. (B.C. Wildfire Service)

Firefighter lights a back-burn to interrupt the spread of a B.C. forest fire. (B.C. Wildfire Service)

B.C. works to prepare for future wildfire, flood seasons

Stepping up prescribed burns is part of the provincial strategy

The B.C. forests ministry is stepping up efforts to use prescribed burning to reduce spring floods and wildfire risks, and help the landscape recover from two consecutive years of record fire damage.

Forests Minister Doug Donaldson released the province’s wildfire and flood action plan Wednesday, outlining its progress on more than 100 recommendations from a review of the devastating 2017 wildfire season. The summer of 2018 saw even more area burned, but fewer evacuations of communities.

RELATED: Experts call for First Nations partnerships, fuel management

Spring flooding in 2017 resulted in the evacuation of 2,500 people, many in the Okanagan. That was followed by a dry lightning storm that sparked 190 wildfires in 48 hours, mostly in the Cariboo region.

The B.C. Wildfire Service is “initiating a multi-year prescribed and managed wildfire project” that aims to increase training and capacity to handle prescribed burns, the report says.

“We’ve had some around Williams Lake this year already,” Donaldson said. “We’re working with first nations to incorporate their local knowledge into prescribed burns, because they used that technique for millennia to improve habitat around their communities.”

Donaldson said work has already begun on prescribed burns, and changes to open burning legislation are being considered.

“Part of looking at and amending the act is to make sure that people know that smoke will be in their communities more often, but at least in a planned way,” he said. “It might not be a huge change. A lot of it is public education as well.”

The 2018 wildfire season saw more than 13,000 square kilometres burned, displacing thousands of people and pushing the province’s firefighting and flood response costs $400 million.

In 2017, the area burned was slightly lower, but more than 65,000 people were evacuated during the longest state of emergency in B.C. history, and the combined wildfire and flood response cost was nearly $650 million.


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