In recent years, the B.C. government has invested heavily in wildfire prevention and preparedness to help keep British Columbians safe and protect the province’s natural resources and infrastructure.
The B.C. government has allocated $136 million for direct fire costs in Budget 2021 for the 2021-22 wildfire season – the same as last year’s firefighting budget, but $73 million more than was allocated in Budget 2018.
These significant increases recognize historical firefighting costs and allow for increased wildfire response capacity, community engagement and communication resources to help communities be better prepared for wildfires.
The B.C. government strongly supports the efforts of local governments and First Nations to reduce wildfire risks in and around their communities by completing fuel management projects, developing Community Wildfire Resiliency Plans and implementing FireSmart principles. This work is particularly important in the wildland-urban interface, where urban development borders on grasslands and forested areas.
The BC Wildfire Service works closely with land managers to undertake a variety of fuel management activities (such as removing accumulations of wood debris and other flammable vegetation), including the use of prescribed fire to reduce wildfire risks.
Community Resiliency Investment program:
- The Community Resiliency Investment (CRI) program provides $60 million through the FireSmart Community Funding and Supports category to help local governments and First Nations mitigate wildfire threats around their communities.
- Since the program was established in September 2018, the government has approved 366 grants to local governments and First Nations, totalling more than $37 million.
- Eligible applicants facing a lower wildfire risk can apply for up to $50,000 through the FireSmart Community Funding and Supports category. Applicants facing a demonstrated higher wildfire risk can apply for up to $150,000. They can apply for funding to cover up to 100% of the cost of their wildfire risk reduction projects.
- The Community Resiliency Investment program takes a proactive approach to wildfire risk reduction and fuel management treatments by considering fire prevention and FireSmart activities on provincial Crown land, private land, local government land and reserve land.
- Partnerships between local governments, First Nations and other tenure-holders are encouraged, particularly in areas where treatments, vegetation management or other activities cross administrative boundaries.
- Starting in 2019-20, as part of a more comprehensive wildfire risk reduction effort, the B.C. government also committed up to $50 million over three years for wildfire risk reduction efforts on Crown land. The Crown Land Wildfire Risk Reduction funding category targets areas of Crown land facing a higher wildfire risk near communities or critical infrastructure.
- More information about the Community Resiliency Investment program and the application process is available on the Union of B.C. Municipalities website: www.ubcm.ca/cri
Crews and equipment:
- More than 1,700 BC Wildfire Service (BCWS) firefighters and support staff are in place for the 2021 fire season.
- The Province regularly calls on the services of contractors to support efficient wildfire management in British Columbia.
- Type 1 firefighting crews are BCWS’s most highly trained front-line firefighters and have experience using a variety of firefighting equipment.
- BCWS also regularly calls on the services of contract crews to support wildfire management in British Columbia. Type 2 contract crews are used to supplement BCWS firefighters and for sustained action support. Type 2 crews carry out expanded attack operations, including hand-guard construction, mop-up and patrol duties.
- Once part or all of a fire is considered to be under control, Type 3 contract crews may be brought in to mop up the fire using pumps and hoses, patrol burned areas using hand tools to extinguish any remaining hotspots or remove equipment once a fire is fully extinguished.
- In preparation for the 2021 wildfire season, the BCWS procured 18 contracts for eight-person, Type 2 firefighting crews (providing 150 qualified people) that meet Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre standards. These contractors are used to supplement BCWS firefighters for sustained action support.
- The BCWS has agreements with 59 companies to provide Type 3 firefighting crews throughout the province. These companies can provide up to about 2,000 private Type 3 contractor firefighting personnel.
- Additional national and international firefighting resources are available as needed, through mutual aid agreements, to ensure that we have the capacity to manage the wildfire situation throughout B.C.
- The Province’s long-term contracted fleet for the 2021 fire season consists of 39 fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft:
- one Type 4 light-lift helicopter
- five Type 2 medium-lift helicopters
- three Type 2 medium-lift rappel and hoist-equipped aircraft
- eight bird dog aircraft (used for co-ordinating aerial wildfire response)
- 20 airtankers (including one Q400 AT Airtanker, 10 AT-802F Fire Boss amphibious airtankers, four Electra L-188 “heavy” airtankers, three Convair CV-580 “intermediate” airtankers and two RJ-85 580 “heavy” airtankers)
- two parattack smoke-jumping aircraft (DC-3T and Twin Otter)
- The Province can bring in additional contracted aircraft as needed.
- One of the key themes of the Abbott-Chapman report on the 2017 wildfire and freshet seasons (Addressing the New Normal: 21st Century Disaster Management in British Columbia) was the need to re-examine how the provincial government works with First Nations on wildfire issues.
- Significant progress has been made to keep First Nations better informed on fire-related topics, such as:
- pre-season forecasts;
- fire season debriefings;
- the use of heavy equipment; and
- firefighting equipment caches in remote communities.
- BCWS continues to meet regularly with Indigenous communities to discuss communications, firefighter recruitment opportunities and contract opportunities.
- BCWS 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.
- Guidance is being provided to interested Indigenous communities to respond to master standing offer requests to supply Type 3 firefighting crews. BCWS is also providing advice to Indigenous communities interested in upgrading their existing Type 3 crews to Type 2 crews.
- Mitigating wildfire risk is a shared responsibility. Individual British Columbians can play a crucial role in mitigating wildfire risks around their homes and properties by undertaking FireSmart measures.
- FireSmart is the Canadian standard recognized by all provinces and territories. It is based on National Fire Protection Association standards that have evolved during the past 40 years.
- FireSmart is backed by a vast amount of field, laboratory and modelling research. Its methods have been demonstrated time and time again to reduce the risk of losses, even under the most extreme fire conditions.
- FireSmart is founded on seven disciplines:
- vegetation management (reducing accumulations of flammable materials on the landscape)
- community planning
- development considerations (looking at ways that local governments could regulate development to incorporate FireSmart principles)
- inter-agency co-operation
- FireSmart training and cross-training
- emergency management planning
- The FireSmart Begins at Home manual was developed to help people reduce the risk of personal property damage due to wildfires. The manual and more information about the FireSmart program are available online: www.firesmartbc.ca
- The BC FireSmart Committee was established in May 2017 to deliver a more effective FireSmart program throughout the province. The committee includes representation from:
- BC Wildfire Service
- Office of the Fire Commissioner
- Union of B.C. Municipalities
- Fire Chiefs’ Association of British Columbia
- Emergency Management BC
- Forest Enhancement Society of B.C.
- First Nations’ Emergency Services Society of B.C.
Forest Enhancement Society of British Columbia:
- The Forest Enhancement Society of B.C., a Crown agency, was established in 2016 to advance environmental and resource stewardship of the province’s forests by:
- preventing and mitigating the impact of wildfires
- improving damaged or low-value forests
- improving habitat for wildlife
- supporting the use of fibre from damaged and low-value forests
- treating forests to improve the management of greenhouse gases
- The B.C. government has invested $238 million in the society, with about $237.6 million allocated for 269 projects (as of March 2021) for wildfire risk reduction, reforestation, forest rehabilitation, wildlife habitat restoration and raising awareness of the FireSmart program.
- These efforts help mitigate the effects of climate change and wildfires on our communities. They also complement B.C.’s world-class wildfire suppression capabilities and the ministry’s existing forest stewardship programs, including the Climate Leadership Plan and the Forest Carbon Initiative.
- More information about the Forest Enhancement Society of B.C. is available online: http://www.fesbc.ca
Education and enforcement:
- Public outreach has been significantly expanded in recent years to make full use of online resources and social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter.
- In May 2020, the BCWS launched its official mobile app, which provides real-time wildfire information and features an interactive map that users can customize to display a variety of fire-related data. This free app complements the BCWS’s website and social media channels.
- Nearly half of all wildfires each year are caused by human activity, so the BCWS puts a strong emphasis on wildfire prevention, public education and enforcement.
- In 2016, the B.C. government significantly increased ticket fines for 19 different violations under the Wildfire Act and another seven violations under the Wildfire Regulation. British Columbia now has some of the highest wildfire-related violation ticket fines in Canada. More information about these changes is available online: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/safety/wildfire-status/about-bcws/governance/legislation-regulations/summary-of-fines?keyword=fine
- Anyone found in contravention of an open burning prohibition may be issued a ticket for $1,150, required to pay an administrative penalty of up to $10,000 or, if convicted in court, fined up to $100,000 and/or sentenced to one year in jail. If the contravention causes or contributes to a wildfire, the person responsible may be ordered to pay all firefighting and associated costs.