The B.C. government has increased its base budget for wildfire response to more than $100 million, including new technology for responding quickly when fires start.
The provincial government increased its base budget 58 per cent for this year, after two record fire seasons in a row and continued calls for increased prevention efforts in interface areas around communities. Preparations begin as a cold winter recedes, potentially creating dry spring conditions.
The base budget is an arbitrary amount, with the actual spending in severe wildfire seasons going as high as $400 million. In the record fire seasons of 2017 and 2018, the total topped $600 million as crews and equipment were called in from as far away as Australia.
This year’s base budget includes an additional $50 million community resiliency program to help local governments and Indigenous communities lower the wildfire risk around communities. It’s a long-awaited effort to implement recommendations from former Manitoba premier Gary Filmon after the 2003 wildfire season destroyed homes in the Okanagan.
Forests Minister Doug Donaldson said this year’s effort includes testing of night vision goggles by aerial crews to detect new fires earlier. But the key is prevention, including an expanded prescribed burning program with an initial $10 million budget, Donaldson said.
The B.C. Wildfire Service has more than 1,600 firefighters and support staff prepared for the 2019 season, with initial attack crews increased in the Northwest and Prince George fire centres to reach remote locations.
Industry equipment teams are being expanded, with joint training workshops involving forest industry crews with heavy equipment and B.C. Wildfire Service personnel to improve response.
The province’s four “Fire Boss” air tankers and spotting aircraft have had their base budget for operation increased from 100 to 120 days. The aircraft can operate from land or water, with a rapid cycle time for dropping water or fire retardant to slow the spread of a wildfire.