Cost of fighting B.C. wildfires already above $95 million for 2021 — before peak fire season begins

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B.C. has spent more than 70 per cent of its 2021 wildfire fighting budget as of July 6.  (B.C. Wildfire Service/Reuters - image credit)
B.C. has spent more than 70 per cent of its 2021 wildfire fighting budget as of July 6. (B.C. Wildfire Service/Reuters - image credit)

The B.C. Wildfire Service has spent more than $95.4 million fighting fires this season, eating through more than 70 per cent of its annual allocated budget before the start of peak fire season.

The forestry ministry provided the figures in a statement to CBC News on Wednesday. The wildfire service's total budget allocated for the 2021 fire season is $136 million.

"This figure is an estimate only," the B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development said.

"The fire management situation is constantly changing, and this total will change."

More than 200 active wildfires were burning across B.C. as of Wednesday morning, with 18 sparked in the last two days.

"The B.C. government will always spend whatever is necessary to protect people and property," said the statement.

By comparison, the province spent $193.7 million fighting wildfires in 2020. The 10-year average cost is roughly $265 million.

In 2017, during one of the worst seasons in recorded provincial history, B.C. spent $649 million.

As of Tuesday, 734 wildfires have been reported in B.C., compared to the 10-year average of 403 starts. Some 90,000 hectares have already burned, compared to an average of 27,000 hectares.

So far this year, 350 fires are suspected to be caused by human activity, including the devastating Lytton fire, compared to 282 fires caused by lightning.

Late summer is typically the height of the firefighting season, as dry weather conditions solidify in the Interior and southeast, and lightning storms increase in frequency.

Campfire ban enforcement

Meanwhile, the province is promising to enforce fire ban regulations through this summer, and could recuperate some firefighting costs for any wildfires caused by negligence.

The B.C. Conservation Officer Service says it issued $25,300 in fines for campfire ban violations though the Canada Day long weekend, from July 1 to July 4.

Twenty-two tickets, worth $1,150 each, were written across B.C.. The regions with the most tickets were the South Coast and Kootenays.

Campfires were banned as of noon on June 30.

Recovering fire costs a long process

Anyone found responsible for causing a wildfire could also be ordered to pay for all firefighting and associated costs, and face administrative fines.

The B.C. forests ministry reports the government imposed nearly $8.7 million in fire suppression costs and $118,750 in penalties between 2013 and 2018.

After the 2016 fire season, 17 fires were judged to be negligent, resulting in a record $4.7 million in recovered costs.

But the process often takes years to resolve as cases wind through regulatory appeals and the civil court system.

There are currently at least seven cases under appeal.