March 19, 2019 8:15 pm
Updated: March 19, 2019 8:50 pm

Wildfire officials brace for Okanagan fire season

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Wildfire officials are gearing up for the fire season in the Okanagan.

“We’re on alert for the entire province,” Forests Minister Doug Donaldson said during a press conference in Kamloops.

“The behaviour of the fires these last two seasons has been much more aggressive than what we’ve seen before,” he added.

Widespread flames in 2017 and 2018 prompted back-to-back provincial states of emergency for the first time in B.C.’s history.

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

Now, there’s concern over this year’s relatively low snowpack in the Okanagan.

“It really depends on what happens in the weather systems in the spring, how fast the melt is, how much rain we get and then, of course, the wind conditions,” Donaldson said.

“As far as the Okanagan goes, like many areas in B.C., what we’re seeing is an earlier start to the fire season and that fire season going later into the fall,” Donaldson said.

The government is touting its firefighting budget increase, which is up to $101 million from $64 million last year.

“This budget uplift of 58 per cent is going to improve the B.C. Wildfire Service’s ability for rapid response,” Donaldson said.

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

“We’re increasing the operating periods of aircraft so they’re available earlier in the season and trying out new technologies, like night vision goggles for firefighters and drones to help with fire mapping.”

There has also been $10 million allocated for prescribed burns as well as $400,000 for training forest professionals.

“For at least 50 years, the effort has been that fires are bad, we need to put them out because they damage resources as well as threaten communities,” said Mike Larock with the Association of B.C. Forest Professionals.

However, Larock said this approach has caused forest fuels to increase and coupled with climate change, it’s led to ferocious fires that have in some places ripped through communities.

READ MORE: 3 B.C. towns had some of the worst air quality in the world during last year’s wildfires: report

“We need to have forest professionals understand how things are changing in the changing climate and we have to manage forests slightly differently,” he said.

With the fire season on the horizon, Larock is also warning people to FireSmart their properties and communities.

“We’ve had FireSmart for a number of years now, and I’m constantly surprised and amazed that the general public, people who live in the forest, have not taken the time to FireSmart their own properties,” he said. “It could be the difference between your house burning down and your neighbour’s, whose stays standing.”

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

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