Feds say they're committed to wildfire prevention and response as B.C. readies for another season

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Federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, centre, appeared with B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth, right, during an announcement about funding for wildfire response and recovery on May 13, 2022. (Justine Boulin/CBC - image credit)
Federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, centre, appeared with B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth, right, during an announcement about funding for wildfire response and recovery on May 13, 2022. (Justine Boulin/CBC - image credit)

Representatives of the federal government were in Vancouver on Friday to tout their financial commitments to help communities respond to and recover from worsening wildfires.

Those commitments include $516 million for wildfire response, money that had already been announced as part of the 2022 budget, as well as $8.4 million for emergency planning and response through the First Nations Emergency Services Society.

The federal ministers on hand also spoke about a total of $416 million in funding committed through the Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements in response to the devastating B.C. wildfires of 2021, and $24 million in recovery funding for the Lytton First Nation.

"We have seen the devastating effects wildfires and natural disasters can have on Canadians and their communities," Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said.

"We recognize the importance of protecting our communities in the face of ever-changing threats, many of them increased by climate change. Preventive measures will help increase our resilience."

Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair and Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu were also on hand for Friday's event in Vancouver, along with representatives of local First Nations and the B.C. government.

Last year's wildfire season was the third worst on record in B.C. in terms of area burned, surpassed only by 2018 and 2017. It also saw the near-complete destruction of the Fraser Canyon community of Lytton and the deaths of two village residents.

There are signs that 2022 could also bring dangerous fire conditions to B.C., with long-term forecasts suggesting warm and dry weather across the country, according to Natural Resources Canada.

So far this year, the B.C. Wildfire Service has responded to 105 fires that have burned 3.61 square kilometres of land.

While every federal politician who spoke Friday mentioned the unmistakable relationship between human-caused climate change and worsening wildfire seasons across the country, there was little talk of concrete commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The only action related to climate change mitigation in the "next steps" announced Friday was a commitment to a June 10 meeting of the joint committee to address extreme weather and climate resilience.

Fewer areas with drought, but 'average' season expected

In a technical briefing by Natural Resources Canada on Friday, analysts said the ongoing spell of cold and wet weather in southern B.C. would likely see a delayed start to wildfire season.

However, they said drought-like or "drier than usual" conditions are likely to return for the province from June onwards, which is likely to lead to an average or above average wildfire season.

"We're off to a very different start than we had in 2021, with the lingering snow cover, less droughts and therefore a slower start to the fire season," said Richard Carr, a fire research analyst with Natural Resources Canada.

"Late summer doesn't look like it will be quite as intense as 2021," Carr said. "We had dry conditions and fairly warm temperatures right from spring through the summer [last year].

Maggie MacPherson/CBC
Maggie MacPherson/CBC

"Maybe a bit of a shortened [wildfire] season compared to 2021, maybe not as intense."

Carr cautioned, however, that the B.C. Interior — which has seen some of the province's most destructive wildfires — is likely to see fire activity pick up from mid-July onwards.

Carr said the northern and western parts of the province, in contrast, might see a wetter and cooler summer according to current weather models.

He says residents should pay attention to updated weather forecasts as the summer approaches.

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