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COVID-19 pandemic adds risk to B.C. wildfire season, says forests minister

Click to play video: 'B.C. 2020 wildfire season forecast' B.C. 2020 wildfire season forecast
A federal agency is warning of the possibility of 'much higher than average' wildfire activity across B.C. And much of the rest of Western Canada this summer. Ted Chernecki reports – May 5, 2020

NEW HAZELTON, B.C. – The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the danger of British Columbia’s wildfire season and the province’s forests minister says public help is crucial to reduce fires.

Doug Donaldson says wildfires caused by humans are preventable and divert valuable resources away from naturally occurring fires while exposing firefighters to unnecessary risks.

Click to play video: 'High wildfire risk for Western Canada' High wildfire risk for Western Canada
High wildfire risk for Western Canada – May 6, 2020

The BC Wildfire Service says people caused more than 54 per cent of the wildfires in the province last year.

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Donaldson says the wildfire service has developed plans aimed at protecting about 1,700 personnel and people they may come in contact with from contracting or spreading COVID-19.

Jody Lucius, communications superintendent for the service, says there are new sanitation protocols for staff travelling in shared vehicles, including aircraft, and professional-grade hand-washing stations for fire camps.

Click to play video: 'BC Wildfire Service launches new mobile app' BC Wildfire Service launches new mobile app
BC Wildfire Service launches new mobile app – May 5, 2020

She says the service is now using single-person tents and new supply kits will help crews camp in smaller groups where possible to help reduce the risk of the virus spreading through larger camps.

READ MORE: Canada’s wildfire season expected to be ‘well above average’: Natural Resources Canada

Lucius says the wildfire service is also working on plans in case someone staying at a fire camp develops symptoms compatible with COVID-19.

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Donaldson says the wildfire service currently will not be implementing testing for personnel who don’t have symptoms, but he deferred to B.C. public health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry for further guidelines.

READ MORE: B.C. releases app tracking real-time information on wildfires

The BC Wildfire Service says its crews had responded to 139 wildfires as of April 1 this year, compared with a seasonal average of 172.

While the season is off to what Donaldson called a normal start, the minister says mitigating wildfire risk is a shared responsibility and people across B.C. must remain vigilant.

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