March 19, 2019 3:52 pm
Updated: March 19, 2019 8:50 pm

B.C. government spending more on prescribed burns, firefighters to combat wildfire season

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The B.C. government is increasing funding for prescribed burns, adding more crews and enhancing aerial capacity in an attempt to keep wildfires under control in the province.

Forests Minister Doug Donaldson says the province is stepping up fire prevention measures in the wake of the two worst wildfire seasons, in terms of area burned, in the province’s history.

“We’ve taken a hard look at additional steps we can take to not only prevent wildfires, but also enhance our response on the ground during wildfire season,” Donaldson said.

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“Our base budget for wildfire spending has increased by 58 per cent, and we’re accelerating prevention and prevention awareness programs.”

READ MORE: More money in B.C. budget for wildfire response as natural disaster costs soar

In the February budget the province announced a wildfire funding increase to $101 million annually. But the money will not go very far if the province experiences the same kind of fire season as a year ago.

Last year, the costs of firefighting and emergency programs related to floods and fires were more than $850 million over budget.

According to the province, historic fire costs have ranged from $53.5 million in 2011 to $649.5 million in 2017. Wildfire-related costs that are above the base amount for fire management are funded through statutory spending authority, as allowed under the Wildfire Act.

READ MORE: Despite a snowy winter, concerns have shifted from flooding to drought in B.C.

More than 1,600 firefighters and support staff are available for the 2019 wildfire season.

Provincewide, the snowpack is sitting at an average of 89 per cent of normal. But there are several areas, like the northwest and Vancouver Island, that are currently measuring well below that number.

The low levels coupled with a lack of rain during the winter in many regions have raised the level of concern for the upcoming fire season.

WATCH (March 15): Looking ahead to fire and flood season for 2019

Both the Northwest Fire Centre and Prince George Fire Centre are adding additional initial attack crews in remote locations. The province has committed $10 million to create a more comprehensive prescribed burning program.

This year will mark the first time firefighting crews will have access to night-vision goggles and will also be provided with iPads and drones in the field to help with fire mapping and infrared scanning.

The BC Wildfire Service is holding joint training workshops with forest industry crews to better assist in wildfire response throughout the province this spring.

WATCH: Lessons learned from one of BC’s worst wildfire seasons

The government has also increased firefighting aircraft contracts. The contract for the “Fire Boss” skimmer aircraft group, which consists of four Air Tractor “Fire Boss” air tankers and one Cessna Grand Caravan bird dog, has been increased from 100 to 120 days.

“Capable of working as a land-based aircraft or as a float plane, the Fire Boss can skim up to 3,025 litres of water from a nearby water source in under 15 seconds and be back on its way to a fire in less than 30 seconds,” reads a government release. “The aircraft can also drop fire retardant and foam to slow the spread of a wildfire.”

WATCH (aired August 21, 2018): Premier Horgan tours the B.C. central fire zone and meets with evacuees

First Nations are also now more involved in the province’s firefighting efforts. The BC Wildfire Service has partnered with the First Nations’ Emergency Services Society of B.C. and Indigenous Services Canada on a strategy to deliver training required for Type 3 and Type 2 firefighting crews.

The government has also worked with First Nations on informing communities about pre-season forecasts, fire season debriefings, the use of heavy equipment and firefighting equipment caches in remote communities.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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