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B.C. BUDGET: Wildfire service going year-round to reduce risk

Prescribed burns aim to reduce decades of fuel buildup
B.C. Wildfire Service firefighter works on perimeter of a fire, July 2019. (B.C. government)

The B.C. government is spending nearly a quarter of a billion dollars to build up capacity in wildfire and emergency management over the next three years.

Premier John Horgan made the commitment to expand the wildfire effort from a seasonal to year-round in the fall of 2021, after the province battled its third major wildfire season in four years. Finance Minister Selina Robinson put that promise into action with her latest budget Tuesday, with $243 million to expand capacity for wildfire and other emergency management response. That three-year commitment includes $400 million for Emergency Management B.C., to improve its flood and fire response and extend its work to debris removal and cleanup.

Floods in Princeton, Abbotsford and Merritt, and wildfire destruction of Lytton, have exposed the limits of B.C.’s emergency response. Residents of Lytton who escaped at the end of June 2021 are still waiting to get access to their properties, as removal of hazardous material and restoration of basic services was further slowed by landslides cutting Highway 1 in the Fraser Canyon.

Wildfire reviews since the 2003 Okanagan Mountain fire have identified fuel buildup from decades of suppressing natural fires as a key factor in increasing the size and intensity of wildfires. Horgan and Forests Minister Katrine Conroy have indicated that the effort needs to extend prescribed burning during lower-risk times of year to reduce forest fuel, especially around communities.

The three-year budget devotes $98 million to fund wildfire prevention work and maintain forest service roads that are needed in wildfire response. Another $210 million is allocated to the community FireSmart program, the community emergency preparedness fund and community-level work to improve dikes, floodplain mapping and other risk-reduction activities that are currently left to local governments.

RELATED: B.C. budget projects deficits to rise for pandemic, rebuilding


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