With the fire season now well underway, the BC Wildfire Service is asking the public to stay alert and help reduce wildfire risks during the hot summer months.
Building on measures from seasons past, the B.C. government has yet again expanded its firefighting and fire prevention capabilities to better combat wildfires and help reduce their frequency overall.
“It’s such a huge issue, given the size of the province and given how much forest we have,” said Kevin Skrepnek, Chief Fire Information Officer with the BC Wildfire Service.
The government is not alone in its fight against wildfires. A real difference is being made by local governments and First Nations that are undertaking a wide range of projects to reduce wildfire threats. As of March 31, 2016, over 290 communities have developed Community Wildfire Protection Plans, which identify areas at risk and outline steps to remove dead trees and clean up debris that could potentially fuel a fire.
When it comes to putting boots on the ground, over 1,560 BC Wildfire Service firefighters and support staff are available each year, with an additional 2,500 contracted firefighting personnel ready to join in if necessary. These firefighters are also ready to help other jurisdictions in need, as they did during the Fort McMurray fires earlier this year.
Still, firefighters in B.C. currently face many challenges, including climate change, increased demands on firefighters (caused in part by a prolonged fire season), and urban and industrial expansion into forested areas.
A big part of fire prevention is raising public awareness of how humans contribute to the wildfire situation each year. Approximately 40 per cent of all wildland fires in Canada are caused by human activity, such as not being careful with fire use when camping or discarding cigarette butts irresponsibly. Over the B.C. Day long weekend alone, the BC Wildfire Service responded to an estimated 98 abandoned campfires provincewide.
Human-caused wildfires are often very destructive, since they often start near residential or industrial areas. However, they’re also the most preventable type of fire. Because of this, the government is encouraging members of the public to educate themselves about burning bans, local wildfire risks, and potential threats to private property and communities.
In an attempt to better inform the public, the BC Wildfire Service has recently updated the FireSmart Homeowner’s Manual, which provides tips on how people can make their properties more fire-resistant. The FireSmart Community Grant Program has also encouraged more communities to participate in the FireSmart program.
“There’s a whole range of things that can be done, with various levels of commitment involved,” Skrepnek said.