British Columbia’s forests minister says the province is preparing for the wildfire season with some new strategies and people living near forested areas should also do their part by safeguarding property against potential blazes.
Doug Donaldson says a $101-million budget, up from $64 million last year, will allow for a more comprehensive prescribed burning program and new technology including night vision goggles to help with early detection of fires will be piloted this summer.
He says firefighters will also have more access to computers and iPads in the field and drones will assist with fire mapping and infrared scanning.
Donaldson says a program established last September is expected to fund fuel management work on Crown and private land by helping local governments and First Nations lower wildfire risks.
He says the so-called Community Resiliency Investment Program expands municipalities’ criteria on how they can spend money on planning and urban issues and suggested development bylaws could help them with fire issues.
Donaldson says homeowners can prevent fires from growing by following the national FireSmart program recommendations by removing fuels such as wood piles and noting building material like vinyl siding that can help grow a fire.
“One of the most important things is to make sure, whether you’re under an evacuation order or not, is to FireSmart your property,” he says.
As someone who lives in a rural area, Donaldson says he pays attention to any combustible materials near his home, ensures there are fire breaks around the house and keeps deciduous or leafy trees that are much less flammable.
Wildfires last year scorched a record-setting 13,500 square kilometres in B.C., up from 12,000 square kilometres in 2017 and forcing 65,000 people from their homes. About 510 structures were destroyed, including 229 homes.
The B.C. government has declared a state of emergency for the last two seasons.
Various studies have concluded climate change contributes to an increased risk of wildfire. One paper, published in January in the online journal Earth’s Future, says hot, dry weather caused by greenhouse gas emissions increased the province’s fire risk in 2017 by up to four times.
Last December, the B.C. government introduced a climate-change plan to shift away from fossil fuels and build the economy around reducing greenhouse gas emissions from buildings, industries, vehicles and organic waste, most of which would be diverted from landfills and converted to other products.
The plan, called CleanBC, involves boosting the carbon tax and producing clean hydroelectricity. It will require all new buildings to be net-zero energy ready by 2023, meaning they could generate enough on-site energy to power their own functions.