Minister of Jobs, Economic Recovery, and Innovation Ravi Kahlon has announced the expected move to year-round coverage for the B.C. Wildfire Service (BCWS).
The NDP government promised $145 million in the 2022 budget for the service. Making the announcement in Kamloops today (Mar. 18), Kahlon said many communities are still dealing with the experiences and impacts of last year’s wildfires.
“A lot of them are thinking what’s coming next?” said Kahlon. “That’s why having full-time wildfire service will go a long way to ensure that we have the people ready to go, not only to deal with a crisis when it emerges but also to do that important work which is ensuring our communities are fire resilient, to mitigate any future fires and supporting communities when there are incidents.”
Kahlon said he expects more than 100 new full-time employees will be hired and placed throughout the province, with a number of them being “boots on the ground.” He added part of the budget includes financial support to work with communities on fire mitigation and risk reduction.
“That will also create employment opportunities across the province, particularly in this region (B.C. Interior),” he added.
Risk reduction and wildfire mitigation work is critical to reducing the impact of wildfire and flooding across the province, according to Cliff Chapman, director of provincial operations, BCWS.
“We need to start in people’s backyards,” said Chapman. “Then it goes to neighbourhoods. Then wildland/urban interface, then crown land adjacent to communities, and all the way out into forest land.”
Chapman added that BCWS is also partnering with the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) and the First Nation’s Emergency Services Society of B.C. (FNESS) on risk reduction and fuel mitigation.
“In the grand scheme of things, our risk reduction program is tied to our preparedness program,” he said. “If we can prepare our communities to be more resilient to wildfire, obviously it allows us more capacity to respond when fires begin.”
Minister Kahlon added that $98 million, separate from the $145 million already announced, has been set aside for the next three years to work with at-risk communities.
“That work will be done through FNESS, through UBCM, to ensure that communities have locally what they need, and to ensure communities are fire smart,” he said. “We have already announced $185 million to support communities already affected by wildfires. Those are the three streams we are focused on, and the financial supports needed are there in the budget.”
The permanent year-round service is expected to be ready to be implemented by September, which is historically when part of the auxiliary force would be departing.
A 2021 wildfire summary from the province states $565 million was spent between April 1 and Sept. 30, as 1,610 wildfires burned more than 8,600 square kilometres of forest.